Woman breaking cigarette to quit smoking

Woman breaking a cigarette (© zinkevych - stock.adobe.com)

CHICAGO — Smokers that want a stylish way to kick the habit may soon be able to wear a smart necklace which tracks their efforts to quit. Researchers from Northwestern University are unveiling a new device that looks like a lapis blue pendant. It is capable of tracking how much smokers inhale between puffs. The goal is to help coax smokers into quitting completely while reducing the risk of relapse.

The necklace, called SmokeMon, uses heat signatures from thermal sensors to track every puff. Unlike a nicotine patch, the necklace look-alike gives smokers a bit of privacy from prying eyes.

“This goes way beyond how many cigarettes a person smokes per day,” says senior author Nabil Alshurafa, an associate professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, in a university release. “We can detect when the cigarette is being lit, when the person holds it to their mouth and takes a puff, how much they inhale, how much time between puffs and how long they have the cigarette in their mouth.”

How does the necklace work?

The heat signatures captured by the smart necklace create a smoking topography. Every puff enters a database that scientists use to measure carbon monoxide exposure among smokers. Mapping out the frequency of cigarette smokers also gives scientists a deeper understanding between nicotine exposure and tobacco-related diseases such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, and emphysema. For the smoker, the necklace can assist in their efforts to stop smoking by showing them how their personal smoking topography relates to relapse risk.

As an example, consider a former smoker who takes a few puffs of cigarettes every now and then. Would four puffs cause them to spiral back into their old habits or would four cigarettes do the trick? The information collected through the smart necklace can predict when a person is most likely to relapse and when it’s time to intervene. The intervention would happen in real-time. For example, a certain number of puffs might trigger a notification from a health coach, encouraging you to take it slow.

“For many people who attempt to quit smoking, a slip is one or two cigarettes or even a single puff. But a slip is not the same as a relapse,” says Alshurafa. “A person can learn from slips, by gaining awareness that they did not fail, they just had a temporary setback. To avoid a relapse, we can then begin to shift their focus on how we handle their triggers and deal with cravings.”

Other smoking trackers have a number of issues

Each year, smoking causes over eight million deaths worldwide. It is the leading contributor for a number of preventable diseases and disabilities which result in death in the United States. Estimates show that 12.5 percent of American adults smoke regularly.

Smoking topography is nothing new, but most existing devices are intrusive. For instance, some devices require users to attach them to the cigarette, which changes how a person smokes and can make the data less accurate. Other devices are a bit more conspicuous. Wrist-worn sensors in smartwatches are one clear example, but the data may not be reliable if smokers use the other arm not holding the device to smoke. The sensor may also mistake non-smoking, hand-to-mouth gestures as smoking behavior, creating false-positives. Another option is wearable video cameras, but this is not a popular choice since there is a stigma about having one on and infringing on a person’s privacy.

In the current study, 19 people wore the necklace and took part in 115 smoking sessions. Scientists studied how smokers acted in a controlled versus free-living environment. As smokers wore the necklace, scientists trained a deep learning-based machine model to detect smoking behavior. This helped shape their smoking topography which included factors such as the timing of a puff, number of puffs, puff duration, puff volume, inter-puff interval, and how long they smoked.

“These real-time measurements can really help us understand the depth a person is at in their smoking habits and treat the patient accordingly,” comments one smoking cession specialist.

In time, the researchers are planning to use the necklace to track the smoking behavior of people who use e-cigarettes.

The study is published in Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive Mobile Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies.

About Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master's of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor's of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women's health.

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