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How to Pick a Smoking Cessations App

They all claim to help, but which ones really can?

Key points

  • With hundreds of smoking cessations apps, you can be demanding on quality.
  • The most popular app may not the the most effective (or even safest).
  • Focus on an app that offers engagement features that match the unique needs of each patient.

This guest blog was co-authored with Pooja Chaudhary, MBBS, All India Institute of Medical Sciences who serves as senior app evaluator for and partner with the Division of Digital Psychiatry at BIDMC, Harvard Medical School

Many people try to quit smoking but fail. The key is to try again and to introduce new strategies and tools that will make the next time more successful. But what should be next when medicines and therapy have not been successful? One adjunctive option to consider is mobile apps designed for smoking cessation. While no single modality is as effective as a combination, adding apps into your smoking cessation program for patients may prove helpful.

But finding a smoking cessation app that is suitable, safe, and effective for patients can be a daunting task. There are numerous apps, well over 500, marketed as smoking cessation apps and the FDA does not heavily regulate them. Unfortunately, some of the apps make exaggerated claims about their benefits and others might have medically inaccurate or even harmful information. Many may present privacy concerns around their use of patient data. Without any effective regulations to separate potentially harmful apps from useful ones, how can you make a more informed choice?

Based on experience, as a mental health app evaluator and having rated hundreds of these smoking cessation apps over the last year, below are insights that may also be useful to you.

  1. Ditch star ratings, numbers, reviews, and other popularity metrics: The number of stars or downloads an app has is a popularity metric. Just like you may not want to pick a therapist or medication based on popularity, the same applies to an app. After rating hundreds of apps, experience suggests the most suitable or promising ones don’t make it anywhere near the top in-app stores in terms of placement or ratings. Be open to all apps and not just the easy-to-find ones.
  2. Know your needs: With so many apps to pick from, it is ok to be demanding. Do you want a free app? Do you want a robust privacy policy? Should the app offer CBT-focused techniques or mindfulness, psychoeducation, or peer support? Experience suggests that while many apps address smoking cessation, they differ widely in their approach to privacy, features, cost, etc. It is okay to be demanding and seek apps that offer privacy—there are tremendous privacy concerns across the entire behavioral health app space.
  3. Contains relevant information: It is important to double-check the app and ensure it does not contain any misleading or incorrect information. Apps are not often reviewed by experts, so just because it is on the iTunes or Android stores does not mean the information is accurate. A smoking cessation app may focus on one technique or approach that worked well for the app developer, but that does not mean it will work well for everyone.
  4. Patient facing: Is the app made for patients? Sometimes an app can appear patient-facing, but upon closer inspection is really aimed at healthcare professionals.
  5. Able to export data: This feature is crucial for sharing data outside of the app. As a clinician, you may want to ensure there is an easy way to access the smoking cessation data from your clients. Clients may also want access to their data outside of the apps. Most apps cannot send data to a medical record, but emailing data or even being able to print it can be useful in some cases.
  6. Test the app yourself: In looking at any app, give it a test drive, download it, and try it out. See how it feels, explore it, and get comfortable with it. This will let you assess the content and make sure it meets your standards.
  7. Make a treatment plan: Even the most amazing app will not be impactful if you do not incorporate it into your treatment plan. Let patients know you at least plan to check in with them on how their use of the app is going, and make a point to ensure they know you are interested in their progress.

Smoking cessation apps can be potentially beneficial for quitting or reducing smoking but the key is choosing the right app and being able to use it correctly.


Lagan S, D'Mello R, Vaidyam A, Bilden R, Torous J. Assessing mental health apps marketplaces with objective metrics from 29,190 data points from 278 apps. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica. 2021 Aug;144(2):201-10.

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