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Addict Behav Rep. 2018 Jul 23;9:100122. doi: 10.1016/j.abrep.2018.07.003. eCollection 2019 Jun.

Lessons learned from unsuccessful use of personal carbon monoxide monitors to remotely assess abstinence in a pragmatic trial of a smartphone stop smoking app - A secondary analysis.

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Department of Behavioural Science and Health, University College London, London, UK.
UCL Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group (UTARG), UK.



Verifying abstinence remotely in trials of digital cessation interventions remains a major challenge. This study reports on using personal carbon monoxide (CO) monitors to assess abstinence in a pragmatic trial of a standalone cessation app involving automated recruitment with no researcher contact.


The study involved secondary data analysis of remote CO testing in a randomized trial (ISRCTN10548241) comparing two versions of a cessation app (BupaQuit). Trial participants were adult UK-based smokers interested in quitting, who were recruited online (02/2015-03/2016). Participants were followed-up through the app, email or phone at 4 weeks. Fifty-nine participants reporting not smoking were posted a personal CO monitor with instructions, and emailed two reminders. The monitors required installing software on a Windows PC. Participants were not reimbursed but retained the device. We recorded the proportion of CO tests returned, test results, self-reported ease of use, correct use, acceptability, and reasons for missing results.


Fifteen (25.4%) CO results were returned, of which 86.6% were <10 ppm and 53.3% were <5 ppm, indicating abstinence (corresponding to 20.9% and 12.9% of all trial participants self-reporting abstinence, respectively). These 15 participants found the test easy, acceptable and believed they conducted it correctly. Eight (18.2%) of the missing results were accounted for, including no access to a Windows PC, barriers to receiving packages, and unwillingness to share results.


Remote validation using personal CO monitors may not yet be feasible in pragmatic studies of cessation apps in which participants are recruited with no reimbursement or direct contact with researchers.


App; Biochemical verification; Carbon monoxide; Intervention; Pilot; Smartphone; Smoking cessation

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