Health Tech | Connected e-Cigarettes: A New Tool for Cardiologists?
Cardiologists are often responsible for patients with the most detrimental lifestyle habits or conditions, including obesity and smoking. Since smoking contributes to cardiovascular diseases, such as atherosclerosis, it is important to look for new tools that may help our patients quit. One potential tool is the smartphone-connected e-cigarette, which has given rise to the “quantified smoker.” The quantified smoker knows how often he or she is lighting up and what may trigger smoking. There are at least three start-up companies working on such devices, including the Quitbit connected lighter and the Kosmo and Smokio connected e-cigarettes. We had the opportunity to speak with Smokio Co-Founder Alexandre Prot about how this device may be used in the fight against smoking.
What inspired you to start Smokio?Both myself and the other Smokio Co-Founder, Steve Anavi, looked to e-cigarettes when we were talking to our mothers about quitting smoking. Naturally, we thought using something that would help to gradually reduce our nicotine intake, while avoiding the other thousands of chemicals in tobacco smoke, would help expedite the process.
In talking to our friends who practiced vaping, we found that a lot of them had difficulty managing their consumption. In some cases, they actually ended up ingesting more nicotine than they did when they were using traditional cigarettes, or far more nicotine altogether. This inspired us to create Smokio, the world’s first connected e-cigarette.
Can you describe the technology behind the product?
Smokio automatically syncs to both Android and iOS smartphones to monitor a user’s vaping frequency and dosage. By using Bluetooth technology, the Smokio app monitors your puffs, vitals, and monetary benefits through a chip in the e-cigarette battery. The printed circuit board (PCB) technology behind Smokio enables the app to precisely monitor usage. This PCB is patent pending.
Unlike any other vaporizer on the market, Smokio communicates with a smartphone and enables the user to monitor usage and give users all the tools they need to transition from tobacco cigarettes to electronic cigarettes.
Smokio gives users the ability to track how many puffs they take on a daily basis. Additionally, via a Bluetooth chip, it can measure the time, location, length, and intensity of the puffs. It also measures composite data, meaning it can compare consumption of e-cigarettes and cigarette equivalents, as well as how much money a user is saving by vaping instead of smoking. The Smokio app also provides some statistics related to vitals improvement when people quit smoking (based on data from the American Cancer Society and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention).
While the other connected e-cigarette maker, Kosmo, is in the beginning stages of production and raising funding on Indiegogo, our product is officially launched and available for delivery in more than 20 countries from our website. We are also increasing the number of points of sale retailing Smokio, both in Europe and in the United States.
Do you have any evidence that connected e-cigarettes can help smokers quit?
Smokio acts as “a smoking/vaping tracker,” similar to how Jawbone or Fitbit act as activity trackers. As a company, our hope is that allowing users to monitor consumption is helpful for people who want to quit. We do not claim, however that Smokio is a smoking cessation device, as we do not guarantee that the device will result in the user quitting smoking.
It is also too early to tell whether people using Smokio have a higher chance of quitting smoking than other e-cigarette users. But, we believe that a smart and connected e-cigarette can be helpful for someone using an e-cigarette, as it provides a tool to better manage vaping intake.
That being said, there was a study released earlier this year in the journal Addiction that showed smokers who use e-cigarettes as a cessation method have seen significantly more progress in their quitting journey than other methods, such as nicotine patches or gum. As more research on this topic is conducted, we are confident that the results will align with this finding.
What is your background in medical technology?
The Smokio founders do not personally have a background in medical technology. However, we have interviewed doctors and experts to come up with the Smokio product and service. We are also currently working on the next version of the mobile app and collaborating with some addiction experts to make it even more useful and meaningful for the end-user.
How do you respond to people who say that e-cigarettes can be used as gateways to smoking as opposed to tools to quit smoking?
Let’s be clear: 99% of people who are buying and using e-cigarettes are ex-smokers (although some non-smokers have tried it once or twice). Everyone should consider e-cigarettes as a solution rather than a problem. Of course, we have to monitor research on this topic, but this is what data tells us so far. And, to be honest, I’m not quite sure why consumers who have never smoked before are looking at e-cigarettes.
Can you discuss the obstacles required to gain widespread adoption? Cigarettes are likely cheaper, so who will fund this type of intervention, especially among poorer populations who are often most affected by the adverse effects of smoking?
One of the biggest obstacles we are seeing is the lack of research and FDA approval. What we do know is that by vaping an e-cigarette you are foregoing the tar and some of the other toxic chemicals ingested through traditional cigarettes and secondhand smoke. In addition, cigarettes are not necessarily cheaper. Many people are switching to e-cigarettes exactly for that reason. In certain states, take Pennsylvania for instance, there is going to be a $2 tax increase per pack in the very near future.
Most physicians we have met are positive about the e-cigarette, meaning that they support it as a substitute for tobacco cigarettes. Of course, these physicians say that the best option would be to quit cold turkey, but that vaping with an e-cigarette is much better than continuing to smoke tobacco cigarettes. Specifically, regarding the “smart and connected” aspect of Smokio, physicians are quite supportive as well, as it is clear to them that monitoring what you are doing can help you adapt/react better.
We are currently in talks with several physicians (in the United States and in Europe) who are very interested in leveraging Smokio for their studies to better understand behaviors around smoking/vaping.
Shiv Gaglani is an MD/MBA candidate at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Harvard Business School. He writes about trends in medicine and technology and has had his work published in Medgadget, The Atlantic, and Emergency Physicians Monthly.
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