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The Smart Cigarette Case That Guilts Smokers With Hard Data

The quantified-health craze is taking aim at our worst habits. Can a connected cigarette case help smokers quit?

Quitting smoking seems like one of the most challenging things you can do. I’ve never smoked, but I’ve seen friends try a range of tricks to try and kick the habit–from lozenges and patches to mobile apps. But what if we could somehow marry the quantified-health craze with this public health pandemic?

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That’s what Nicotrax is trying to do. The early-stage startup is working on what it calls a “smart cigarette case,” a connected gadget that tracks your nasty habit more closely than any other existing method can. Much like how Mint helps you see your personal finance foibles laid out in colorful charts, Nicotrax promises a higher-level glance at the habit you’ve been promising yourself you’d break. The project, which came out of the Engineering Entrepreneurs Program at North Carolina State University, launched its Indiegogo campaign today.

“To break habits, you’ve got to understand them,” says Kyle Linton, CEO of Nicotrax. “And we’re optimistic that Nicotrax can help a lot of people break their addiction to tobacco.”

The Nicotrax cigarette case will use sensors to keep track of how many cigarettes you smoke in a given day. Paired with the startup’s mobile app (via a low-power Bluetooth connection between the case and your phone), the system starts building out a daily, data-driven profile of your smoking habit. You can establish goals and then actually watch your progress unfold, instead of repeatedly convincing yourself that you’re well on your way to a healthier lifestyle with zero evidence.

The smoking data it collects is also geotagged, so over time you can get a visual breakdown of not just how much you smoke, but where you tend to smoke. If it turns out you smoke more heavily outside your favorite downtown bar, for example, Nicotrax will notice when you return and warn you when you’re at risk of going over your pre-defined daily allotment of cigarettes. The system can also send you photos of loved ones, news articles, and other motivational content designed to discourage you from pulling out that next smoke. The team is also thinking about ways to detect who you’re with to help further distill–and preempt–possible triggers. If you always smoke around your friend Steve (he’ll also need to own a Nicotrax case, of course), Nicotrax will learn that and be sure to send you a gentle reminder of your stated goals whenever you’re around him.

“The ultimate goal is to be a positive platform,” says Linton. “There are so many anti-smoking products and a lot of them are like, ‘This is your lungs after six months.’ Instead, we push content that is motivational. That could be photos of your kids or your spouse. It could be something financial. We want to take whatever would motivate you to quit and bring that to the forefront of your mind.”

The Nicotrax app will push the data it collects to a web-based dashboard that breaks down your smoking habit into further detail in the form of colorful data visualizations and maps. The logic here is similar to other quantified-health apps and trackers: If I log my runs using an app like Strava or Runkeeper, I’m more likely to push myself harder knowing that fellow runners are watching–and probably more likely to set higher goals once I can see my activity plotted out over time. Nicotrax’s founders hope the app and hardware will have a similar effect as users try to dwindle down their number of daily cigarettes. In addition to pushing photos and articles, the Nicotrax app will also show users how much money they’ve saved by cutting back, as well how much longer they are likely to live.

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Nicotrax isn’t the first company to combine self-tracking with smoking cessation. Another startup took a somewhat similar approach in creating the Quitbit, a smart lighter that keeps track of how many cigarettes you light up and illustrates your habit in charts.

At launch, Nicotrax plans to sport very basic Facebook integration, allowing users to sign up and log in using their Facebook account. Over time, Linton says, they hope to build out more social functionality beyond its own proprietary social network. That’s probably a smart move, as recent studies have shown that peer pressure from social networks can have a positive impact on smokers’ ability to quit.

About the author

John Paul Titlow is a writer at Fast Company focused on music and technology, among other things.

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