Just wait for the beep, then light up
Web Posted: 03/27/2006 12:07 AM CST
San Antonio Express-News Medical Writer
Scott Leake used to get up every morning and light the first of many
Marlboro Lights to boost the nicotine level in his blood.
These days, he gets out of bed and downloads a smoking cessation program
into his computerized cigarette case, helping track his now-waning
A chain smoker for more than 30 years, Leake has tried everything
to quit: hypnosis, nicotine patches and gum. Finally, the self-professed
gadget guru says he's found something that works.
The program, known as Smoke Signals, is built around the computerized
metal case. It's designed to record smoking patterns and gradually
wean a user off cigarettes over a five-to eight-week period.
The unit tracks a person's daily habit by counting the number of times
its lid is opened and closed. Each week, fewer cigarettes are allowed.
The steady reduction helps lessen a smoker's nicotine withdrawals and
cravings, said Vesta Brue, founder of Smoke Signals, a San Antonio
Leake, a 50-year-old private fire investigator who has tried to quit
more than a dozen times, finds the program appealing.
"It's totally different than any smoking cessation program, because
it allows the smoker to smoke," he said. "You're pulled off
The service costs $99 to $149 and includes the case � which beeps
when it's time for the user to light up. The program builds personalized,
constantly updated Web pages with information about daily consumption
and target goals. It also sends regular e-mail alerts with tips about
Smoke Signals represents the growing trend of high-tech tobacco cessation.
Support groups and classes for quitting have been decreasing in popularity,
and people are looking for novel and convenient ways to change their
habits, said Rebecca Gray of the local American Lung Association chapter.
"Our lives are so busy," she said. "Our
experience is we would get a (class) teacher and a facility, do marketing
to tell the community about it, and no one would show up. It was
has launched its own Freedom from Smoking online program. Many states,
including Texas, also have free telephone "quitlines," which
link callers to counselors trained in tobacco cessation.
Research shows most programs are successful when used with some type
of nicotine drug or replacement therapy. Brue said an ongoing study
is looking at the effectiveness of Smoke Signals used alone or in conjunction
with an antidepressant often used in tobacco cessation.
Signals is built around the principles of a technique known as "scheduled reduction." The
device, which beeps to tell its user to smoke at times spaced throughout
the day, forces smokers to give up their own discretion, Brue said.
That means sometimes missing that favorite cigarette with your coffee
or after work or hearing the beep during inconvenient times, she said.
"You're planting the notion of having to smoke in an unpleasant
circumstance," she said.
The technique also indirectly encourages smokers to demonstrate control
over their addiction, Brue said. If a craving hits, a user can check
the small screen on the device to see when he is allowed have the next
To Leake's amazement, he's actually been able to put off that morning
coffee cigarette and wait until the device beeps. That's half the battle
� stopping the unconscious behavior of lighting up, he said.
"Sometimes, I'll find myself thinking about it, and then I'll
see that I only have like 11 minutes left," he said. "I think,
'I can wait that long.' It breaks the repetitive cue."
Paul Cinciripini, director of the Tobacco Research and Treatment Program
at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston,
studies treatments for nicotine dependence. He hasn't studied the Smoke
Signals program specifically but helped pioneer the scheduled reduction
In controlled studies, Cinciripini found smokers trying to kick the
habit are more likely to be successful if they cut back gradually and
smoke on a time-based schedule, disrupting their usual smoking pattern.
Smokers also reported they found the assigned schedule approach, along
with the fact they didn't have to quit cold turkey, less intimidating
than other techniques, he said.
No fancy program, drug or approach to stop smoking will work unless
a person is fully committed, Brue acknowledged. It takes an average
of five attempts for a smoker to give up the habit, Gray said.
Leake, whose parents both smoked and whose mother died of emphysema,
received his recent motivation the hard way. Last spring, blood clots
in his leg broke free, cut off the circulation to his foot and produced
a mild heart attack.
Doctors blamed his nearly three-pack-a-day habit.
into the Smoke Signals program, Leake is down to only 15 cigarettes
a day. His "quit date" is April 14, although that could
move a day or two, depending on his progress in the program.
"Even when you cheat, you're still going downhill, and you're
still moving toward your goal," he said. "For me, this has
been totally worth it, because it's been a total confidence booster."