Skip to Content

Virtual Reality Helps Smokers Quit

Volunteers who played a cigarette-crushing game had better odds of kicking the habit.

A screenshot from the cigarette-crushing game

Smokers who regularly play a computer game that involves crushing virtual cigarettes could have a better chance of kicking the habit. At least, that’s the implication of an experiment carried out by researchers at the University of Quebec in Canada and published in the latest issue of CyberPsychology and Behavior.

Virtual reality has been used to treat a variety of disorders including phantom limb syndrome, arachnophobia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and even the pain experienced by burn victims.

In the University of Quebec study, 91 smokers played either the cigarette-crushing game or a ball-grasping game via a motion-tracking, head-mounted display over 3 months. In each game, players wandered around a medieval castle and used a virtual arm (controlled by a wireless game pad) to either find and crush floating cigarettes or grasp virtual balls. At the end of the three months, 15% of those in the cigarette-crushing group said they had cut down on smoking (as measured by carbon monoxide levels in an exhale test), compared to 2% of the ball-grasping group.

Aside from better smoking abstinence, those who played the cigarette-crushing game also reported having lower nicotine cravings.

The researchers speculate that crushing virtual cigarettes may help smokers feel more confident about quitting. The game may have also help players associate crushing cigarettes with the feeling of winning.

It would be interesting to know if a regular video game would have a similar effect, or if a more immersive virtual reality experience is crucial.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

Here’s how a Twitter engineer says it will break in the coming weeks

One insider says the company’s current staffing isn’t able to sustain the platform.

Technology that lets us “speak” to our dead relatives has arrived. Are we ready?

Digital clones of the people we love could forever change how we grieve.

How to befriend a crow

I watched a bunch of crows on TikTok and now I'm trying to connect with some local birds.

Starlink signals can be reverse-engineered to work like GPS—whether SpaceX likes it or not

Elon said no thanks to using his mega-constellation for navigation. Researchers went ahead anyway.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.