As public officials sound the opioid alarm in the face of skyrocketing overdoses and the tragic nature of these deaths, tobacco is quietly killing off far more people each year.
Cigarette smoking causes about one in five deaths in the United States, according to the CDC, making it the number one cause of preventable death.
If research from Northwestern University bears out, a necklace could help save some of those lives.
Scientists there have developed a device you wear around your neck that helps you quit smoking. Dubbed “SmokeMon” (sounds like Pokemon), it monitors smoking patterns and triggers using a thermal sensor, housed inside a custom pendant, that detects heat signals from lit cigarettes.
The necklace can tell when a cigarette being lit, when the person is taking a puff, the time between puffs, and how often and how long they inhale. Using a type of artificial intelligence known as deep learning, this information can help predict whether a person will relapse and when to intervene with, say, a smartphone text or video message suggesting mindfulness techniques. The device is described in a research paper in Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies.
It’s the latest in a growing number of wearables designed for smoking cessation. Some wrist-worn devices use motion sensors to detect when you’re smoking (or about to). Others involve chest straps to detect smoking inhalation patterns. Still others use cameras embedded in eyeglasses to capture smoking images.
“People are definitely becoming more accustomed to using wearable devices to measure impacts on their health,” says Santosh Kumar, PhD, a professor in computer science at the University of Memphis, who was not involved in the study. A device like this necklace could be especially useful in smoking cessation research, Kumar says.
Previous wearables have drawbacks that the necklace avoids, the Northwestern researchers say. Motion sensors may be unable to distinguish between smoking and eating or touching the mouth. Chest straps can be cumbersome, and cameras raise privacy concerns.
Of course, for any wearable, it only works if people actually wear it.
For the necklace, the Northwestern team had volunteers test out a prototype. The first was a small blue pendant, created by a 3D printer.
“I saw that it mattered to people what the sensor case looked like, so I got the idea of custom-designing and printing different cases,” says senior study author Nabil Alshurafa, PhD, associate professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern and director of the university’s HABits Lab.
Alshurafa realized that people would be more likely to wear a necklace that matched their style. Since then, the team has been custom-printing 3D case designs, even having users bring in their favorite pendants as a model.
Alshurafa’s team plans to test the necklace’s real-world effectiveness by partnering with hospitals and local community centers that offer smoking cessation programs.
They have already completed focus group testing with some of these programs and consulted with 18 tobacco-treatment specialists for feedback on the device.
The price tag for such a necklace remains to be seen, but Alshurafa expects the cost would be comparable to that of a smartwatch.
Nabil Alshurafa, PhD, associate professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University; director of Northwestern’s HABits Lab
Santosh Kumar, PhD, Lillian & Morrie Moss Chair of Excellence Professor in Computer Science at the University of Memphis
Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies. (2023). “SmokeMon: Unobtrusive Extraction of Smoking Topography Using Wearable Energy-Efficient Thermal.” https://doi.org/10.1145/3569460
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