An Internet-based Virtual Environment to Curb Teen Smoking

An Internet-based Virtual Environment to Curb Teen Smoking

United States
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

An interactive online teen smoking cessation simulation which applies virtual reality exposure therapy to help adolescents to quit smoking.

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Plot your innovation within the mosaic of solutions
Which of these barriers is the primary focus of your work?

Insufficient Evidence that Games Improve Health

Which of the principles is the primary focus of your work?

Physical Health

If you believe some other barrier or principle should be included in the mosaic, please describe it and how it would affect the positioning of your initiative in the mosaic:

This field has not been completed

What is your signature innovation in one sentence?

An interactive online teen smoking cessation simulation which applies virtual reality exposure therapy to help adolescents to quit smoking.

Describe your innovation. What makes your idea unique and different than others doing work in the field?

No competitor has yet brought an interactive, internet-based product to market, and no competitor is using virtual reality video game. Instead, researchers are using: Chat rooms with peers; discussion forums; email and website information; and message boards. In comparison, this technology offers the advantage of providing a virtual environment that is both entertaining and therapeutic. Cue exposure therapy (CET) has been used to treat addictive behaviors. This type of therapy uses repeated exposure to eliminate the association of smoking with objects and situations. The program uses virtual environments containing smoking cues such as packs of cigarettes, ashtrays, and peer pressure. The PI’s expertise in Virtual Reality and Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy has been critical for virtual environment designs.

What barriers exist that are creating the problem your innovation is hoping to address/change?

Smoking has increasingly become a burden on America’s health and economic status. Tobacco use in the United States results in over 440,000 deaths every year, accounting for the deaths of 1 in every 5 Americans, and is the leading preventable cause of premature death [NIH State-of-the-Science Panel, 2006]. 80% of adult smokers started smoking before the age of 18. Although these youths have not become regular smokers, they are already addicted. The younger they are when they begin to smoke, the more addicted they become to nicotine [Klein et al. 2005]. Some teens don’t even realize they are addicted and some are in denial. It has become something their body needs and craves. They believe they can quit at any time therefore they do not seek assistance in quitting. Those who would like help quitting are unfamiliar with smoking-cessation programs and are concerned over parent involvement, confidentiality, and the ability of counselors to relate to their experiences [Woodruff et al. 2001].

Delivery Model: How do you implement your innovation and apply it to the challenge/problem you are addressing.

Most smoking cessation programs are geared towards adults, and there has not been enough effort put in to teen smoking cessation programs. Adolescents favor an informal and convenient tobacco cessation support. Teenagers are more comfortable sitting behind their computers and they feel less inhibited in virtual environments as opposed to face-to-face interaction. That is why an interactive online flash program has been created by VRMC. The virtual environment has been designed based on engaging to user’s attention, but not to the point of distraction. The game can be found on
When prompted for login, please use "guest" as user name and "guest473" as password (without quotation marks).

How do you plan to scale your innovation?

The "Teen Smoking" project is still in its first phase. If funding and support are sufficient, we plan to expand the game by creating more content, like a reward system for the player for staying smoke-free for certain number of days, a virtual online shop for user to purchase furniture, items to customize the virtual house; a part-time job system where the user needs to work (more mini-games involved) for money that can then be used to buy items in the online shop. A online forum is also foreseeable for people to post opinions and questions about the game, smoking cessation, or anything related. A portable version is also plausible for future version.

Provide one sentence describing your impact.

Effectively preventing adolescents from becoming addicted smokers would be a major relief in America's health and economic status.

What impact has your innovation had to date? Exactly who are the beneficiaries of your innovation?

The primary end-users for this technology are school guidance counselors and therapists who can use the program as a tool to aid teenagers to learn the negative impacts on smoking and how to effectively overcome the habit. The main beneficiaries of this program, of course, are the teenagers who use our program and successfully quit smoking.

VRMC has established a cooperative agreement with DefenseWeb to deliver the program to military dependents via their website, which provides valuable contents to support Department of Defense health care, quality of life, and family support organizations. In addition, we have also entered into an agreement with "Resasterea Romana" Cultural Foundation, to expand our Teen Smoking program at 10 schools in Iasi County in Romania. The Finnish Ministry of Education has also expressed an interest in providing this program to Finnish youths, and the program is now under review.

How many people have you served directly?

Clinical trial was conducted with 15 participants after all the regulatory approvals (IRB) were received.

How many people have you served indirectly?

As with many web based applications, it is difficult to determine the exact number

Please list any other measures reflective of the impact of your innovation

Clinical trail shows that the program is easy to use and user friendly. Participation agreed that setting a quit date helps you to quit, and that keeping busy and doing physical activity will distract them smoking. They also agreed that our virtual environment provided a natural environment with wonderful visual and auditory effects, and none of them experienced any side effects while going through the program.

What are the main barriers to creating your impact?

This field has not been completed

How is your initiative financed?

The Phase I of this project is funded by National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

Provide information on your finances and organization: annual budget, annual revenue, number of staff:

This field has not been completed

What is the potential demand for your innovation?

Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of premature health in the United States. There are estimated 2,000 adolescents begin smoking everyday. This program is aimed for teenagers from 13 and up. The education is urgent, and the potential demand is enormous.

What are the main barriers to financial sustainability?

This field has not been completed

The Story
What is the origin of this innovation? Tell us your story.

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How did you hear about this contest and what is your main incentive to participate? (this is confidential)

2. Changemakers E-card