How AI-powered ‘Puff Technology’ can Help Smokers Quit

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New research will observe how smokers use e-cigarettes and help them quit smoking using newly developed ‘puff technology.’ 

Researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the UK launched a new study¹ this week to help understand the smoking habits of e-cigarette users. The research will be used to develop an artificial intelligence program that could be used to help smokers quit tobacco.

The team, led by Emma Ward and Felix Naughton, both doctors from UEA’s Norwich Medical School and School of Health Sciences respectively, will use a monitoring device that attaches to tank-based e-cigarettes and measures how many inhalations a smoker takes and the duration between these ‘puffs.’

The collected data builds a model of tobacco cravings and the mood of users. This data can then be used to construct a profile of smoking and vaping patterns tailored to the individual user to help them control their smoking and even eventually quit altogether.

“Dual using both e-cigarettes and tobacco is common and more than a third of UK e-cigarette users continue to smoke tobacco as well,” explains Ward. “But we know that smoking tobacco is much more harmful than vaping, and that people who switch from smoking cigarettes to vaping are more likely to remain smoke-free.”

Ward explains that vaping is a way for smokers to gradually quit tobacco, slowly reducing the harm inflicted by the habit and limiting the nicotine withdrawal resulting from a sudden stop. Yet, there is still a lot to learn about how this happens and smokers who transition gradually to e-cigarettes. 

We want to find out more about how dual-use varies over time, and what factors help or hinder smokers in switching away from smoking tobacco to using e-cigarettes.

Dr. Emma Ward, Norwich Medical School, UEA

The study project pioneered by the team  —  Tracking via Repeated Assessment of Joint E-Cigarette and Tobacco use or TRAJECT  —  is currently looking for volunteers that have started vaping within the last three months and still smoke tobacco at least two days a week. It is funded by Cancer Research UK.

Introducing Sophisticated ‘Puff Tech’

As many vapers and smokers will be aware, many e-cigarettes already come with integrated technology that counts the number of ‘puffs’ a user takes. The device utilized by the UEA team is far more sophisticated, providing the researchers with a wealth of data.

“The new technology we’re using is more reliable and sophisticated than the puff counters which come integrated in many e-cigarettes and works by precision measurement of the voltage applied to the atomizer through the duration of the puff,” says Ward. “It records the puff topography to build a personalized profile of the user’s vaping patterns.”

To develop the measuring device, the team from UEA teamed with VaipIO  —  developers of an ‘onboard computer’ for e-cigarettes and various other devices to help smokers quit tobacco. The resulting system has been named ‘Level’ and the researchers believe that it will help smokers stop smoking once and for all. 

Level is designed to learn how a user vapes, this data can then be used to actually predict when the smoker is going to be craving a hit of nicotine. Precisely monitoring these tendencies and behaviors can provide data that helps the user understand and control their cravings. 

By putting the user in the driving seat of their smoking and vaping, Level  —  which VaipIO describes as ‘user-friendly, discreet and flexible’  —  can assist them in limiting the amount of nicotine they smoke.

Smokers Welcome

This is the first time that an onboard computer like Level has been used in research focusing on e-cigarettes and smoking habits, and whilst Ward points out that the device used in the study can only be screwed onto certain models of e-cigarettes, that doesn’t mean that smokers and vapers who use incompatible devices can’t pitch in and assist the study.

In addition to the monitoring device, during the study, which lasts for 90 days, the participants will be asked to complete a short daily survey about various aspects of their experience. This includes vaping habits, smoking patterns, stress levels, mood experienced and the level of social support they receive. The researchers won’t ask subjects to change their natural smoking and vaping habits. 

We’re using a powerful scientific method to enable us to build a picture of each participant’s smoking and vaping behavior. This gives us a rare view into how these behaviors fluctuate over time and what psychological, social, and environmental factors influence this for each person.

Dr. Felix Naughton, School of Health Sciences, UEA

Thus, via this voluntary participation, the TRAJECT study is giving smokers the chance to assist in the development of methods to help others quit tobacco once and for all. “Our findings will be important to help dual users reduce harm by stopping smoking and inform policy-decisions on how e-cigarettes can be promoted effectively to help people stop smoking and stay stopped,” Ward concludes. 


¹ TRAJECT: Tracking via Repeated Assessment of Joint E-Cigarette and Tobacco Use, UEA, []

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Robert Lea

Written by

Robert Lea

Robert is a Freelance Science Journalist with a STEM BSc. He specializes in Physics, Space, Astronomy, Astrophysics, Quantum Physics, and SciComm. Robert is an ABSW member, and aWCSJ 2019 and IOP Fellow.


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