A smoking cessation smartphone app that delivers real-time ‘context aware’ behavioural support: the Quit Sense feasibility RCT

Felix Naughton*, Aimie Hope, Chloe Siegele-Brown, Kelly Grant, Caitlin Notley, Antony Colles, Claire West, Cecilia Mascolo, Tim Coleman, Garry Barton, Lee Shepstone, Toby Prevost, Stephen Sutton, David Crane, Felix Greaves, Juliet High

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Background: During a quit attempt, cues from a smoker’s environment are a major cause of brief smoking lapses, which increase the risk of relapse. Quit Sense is a theory-guided Just-In-Time Adaptive Intervention smartphone app, providing smokers with the means to learn about their environmental smoking cues and provides ‘in the moment’ support to help them manage these during a quit attempt.

Objective: To undertake a feasibility randomised controlled trial to estimate key parameters to inform a definitive randomised controlled trial of Quit Sense.

Design: A parallel, two-arm randomised controlled trial with a qualitative process evaluation and a ‘Study Within A Trial’ evaluating incentives on attrition. The research team were blind to allocation except for the study statistician, database developers and lead researcher. Participants were not blind to allocation.

Setting: Online with recruitment, enrolment, randomisation and data collection (excluding manual telephone follow-up) automated through the study website.

Participants: Smokers (323 screened, 297 eligible, 209 enrolled) recruited via online adverts on Google search, Facebook and Instagram.

Interventions: Participants were allocated to ‘usual care’ arm (n = 105; text message referral to the National Health Service SmokeFree website) or ‘usual care’ plus Quit Sense (n = 104), via a text message invitation to install the Quit Sense app.

Main outcome measures: Follow-up at 6 weeks and 6 months post enrolment was undertaken by automated text messages with an online questionnaire link and, for non-responders, by telephone.

Definitive trial progression criteria were met if a priori thresholds were included in or lower than the 95% confidence interval of the estimate. Measures included health economic and outcome data completion rates (progression criterion #1 threshold: ≥ 70%), including biochemical validation rates (progression criterion #2 threshold: ≥ 70%), recruitment costs, app installation (progression criterion
#3 threshold: ≥ 70%) and engagement rates (progression criterion #4 threshold: ≥ 60%), biochemically verified 6-month abstinence and hypothesised mechanisms of action and participant views of the app (qualitative).

Results: Self-reported smoking outcome completion rates were 77% (95% confidence interval 71% to 82%) and health economic data (resource use and quality of life) 70% (95% CI 64% to 77%) at 6 months. Return rate of viable saliva samples for abstinence verification was 39% (95% CI 24% to 54%). The per participant recruitment cost was £19.20, which included advert (£5.82) and running costs (£13.38). In the Quit Sense arm, 75% (95% CI 67% to 83%; 78/104) installed the app and, of these, 100% set a quit date within the app and 51% engaged with it for more than 1 week. The rate of 6-month biochemically verified sustained abstinence, which we anticipated would be used as a primary outcome in a future study, was 11.5% (12/104) in the Quit Sense arm and 2.9% (3/105) in the usual care arm (estimated effect size: adjusted odds ratio = 4.57, 95% CIs 1.23 to 16.94). There was no evidence of between-arm differences in hypothesised mechanisms of action. Three out of four progression criteria were met.

The Study Within A Trial analysis found a £20 versus £10 incentive did not significantly increase follow-up rates though reduced the need for manual follow-up and increased response speed. The process evaluation identified several potential pathways to abstinence for Quit Sense, factors which led to disengagement with the app, and app improvement suggestions.

Limitations: Biochemical validation rates were lower than anticipated and imbalanced between arms. COVID-19-related restrictions likely limited opportunities for Quit Sense to provide location tailored support.

Conclusions: The trial design and procedures demonstrated feasibility and evidence was generated supporting the efficacy potential of Quit Sense.

Future work: Progression to a definitive trial is warranted providing improved biochemical validation rates.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-99
Number of pages99
JournalPublic Health Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 23 Apr 2024


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