Color & Control:

Helping Young Adults Quit Smoking

By Dr. Bruce Baskerville

Young adults comprise one the largest groups of smokers in Canada, with 19 per cent of those aged 18–34 years recorded as being current smokers in 2017. This group is also among the greatest users of social media and smartphone technology. In 2012, a project designed by the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact at the University of Waterloo sought to bring these two trends together with an app designed to help young people quit smoking.

One of the first of its kind in Canada, “Crush the Crave” is an evidence-informed smartphone app, available in both English and French, that was developed by a team of experts in social media and tobacco cessation. Its development also included several focus groups to create content and test usability and functionality.

Crush the Crave includes a quit plan, a way to track cravings and habits, a diary of smoking triggers, tailored coaching messages, graphics of progress over time, and notifications of money saved, health improvements and goals achieved, as well as online distractions such as games, texting, videos and music.

A recent study that aimed to determine the effectiveness of Crush the Crave recruited 1,600 young adults (aged 19–29 years) who wanted to quit smoking, and randomized them to the app or to an evidence-informed printed self-help guide from Health Canada, known as On the Road to Quitting.

The study found that Crush the Crave was not superior in promoting behaviour change compared with the printed guide, with six-month abstinence rates of 14 per cent for Crush the Crave and 17 per cent for the printed guide (although both were better than the unassisted rate of 11.5 per cent among young adults). Furthermore, participants given the printed guide reported significantly higher levels of overall satisfaction, perceived helpfulness and frequency of use. The researchers also noted that young men did not want to journal their quitting experiences, whereas young women did.

The researchers concluded that while Crush the Crave is feasible for helping young adults quit smoking, it is not superior to a printed self-help guide. Further research is now needed to understand how the app can be improved to increase satisfaction and usage.

The study’s full results can be read in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

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