How Chrono Is Using Tech to Help Smokers Quit

You Start Smoking – How Wearable Tech Helps You Stop

I started smoking pretty late in life, relative to when people usually start. I was 20 and, like so many other people, just idly picked it up. I didn’t really start smoking regularly for another year or two, and then was moderately heavy – rarely a pack a day, but no fewer than three packs a week, depending on what was going on. There were a couple half-hearted attempts to quit, but I knew going in I wasn’t serious. Finally, I really resolved to do so, and went some six months without a cigarette. I still have them every once in a while, but I can go for weeks without even thinking about them. 

Do I want a cigarette? No. Actually, yes. I mean no. NO!

However, I don’t consider myself an “ex-smoker,” because when I do think about it (like right now), I find myself craving them. It isn’t even a physical thing anymore. It’s entirely a mental and behavioral addiction. I don’t need to smoke, but I still want to. And that’s the problem with all sorts of physical quitting techniques: they don’t recognize that it has become a part of you. A patch can’t see your soul, so to speak. Nicotine gum doesn’t know when you have writer’s block and a cruel editor breathing down your neck.

But you know who does know that? You do. And you know what is, increasingly, getting to know you? Your mobile device. That combination, and the persistent difficulty in getting people to stop inhaling poison, has led to an enormous $32 million Series A financing of Chrono, a Hayward, CA, tech company designing a smart, wearable tech quitting aid.

Chrono Device to Understand Your Needs

The best way to think about the “SmartStop” wearable tech device is that it is essentially a brainy patch. I don’t want to make it sound like it drills into and reprograms your brain. It is still a transdermal nicotine delivery device. For people who don’t know much about smoking, and good for you, nicotine isn’t what is harmful, relatively.  It is just the addictive component. It is the tar and other carcinogens that harm you. As we learned in The Insider, cigarettes are a “nicotine delivery device.” It’s spiked with ugly stuff to make it more addictive.

But here’s the thing: I said that it doesn’t reprogram your brain, but that is sort of what it does. All addiction, good or bad, changes the chemistry of your brain. It makes you want something and gives you a reward for getting it. In the case of smoking, absurdly, that reward is just the temporary ceasing of the need to have one. As the great Stephen Fry said,

But the principle is the same: smoking has absolutely no point other than to stop the misery of not smoking. Smokers claim that it aids concentration, soothes the nerves and so on, but we know really that it only does those things because it’s tobacco addiction that messes with concentration and jangles the nerves in the first place.

That’s where nicotine delivery devices come in. You put on a patch; you get nicotine. It stops the wanting… for the time being. The problem is that it doesn’t know you, or understand when you want nicotine the most. For many people it is when they wake up, or right after they eat. For some it is before a meeting, or during a shower.

Smoking in the shower
Pictured: not health.

A smart, wearable device doesn’t know this right away, but it can learn it, both from programming and, eventually, getting to know the way your body handles its chemical need.

Instead of front-loading the nicotine, or dispersing it at intervals that are regular but essentially random, a smart device can adapt on the fly to your desire level. You can also use your smartphone to reprogram it if your day is different. In short, it works with you, against addiction.

Can Wearable Tech Alter More Behaviors?

Speaking as a smoker, and as someone who has railed against the irritating commercials, I can say with certainty that getting people to stop smoking is an unalloyed good. But it still raises some uncomfortable questions. As we saw, it does alter brain chemistry. And yes, it does it for good. But are we really comfortable with devices that can be so attuned to the internal workings of our bodies that they can anticipate needs, serve them, and in doing so fundamentally change something about us?

It’s a tough question. Biometrics are going to be part of our future. Your body will be able to communicate directly with your health professionals and the internal robots that are needed to make you better. It sounds incredible, but it is true. The next logical step is making sure that your brain isn’t similarly messed up, as it is with addiction.

The fear, then, is that this can lead to, at best, an electronic SOMA, the drug in Huxley’s Brave New World that provided pleasure, but dulled other needs. Everyone has a device hooked up to their minds, playing a TV show or maybe just making them think they are happy, and terrible things are happening outside that. The death of free will and all. Cynics will of course say we’re already there.

But this is opt-in. We’re lazy, yes, and like convenience, but reading this, you probably rebel against the idea of a stupefied, meaningless, and dull simulacrum of “happiness.” Most people would. Our technology is what we choose to happen, nothing more. Sure, there is a chance an evil government or corporation could force it on us, but really, if they have the power to do that, we have bigger fish. A lot has gone wrong, and at that point, I’m reaching for my smokes. I know I hid a pack around here somewhere…

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