Battling one's cigarette demons in a virtual world may prove to be an effective way to help people quit smoking, a research team has found in a preliminary study.
Scientists from Canada's GRAP Occupational Psychology Clinic and the University of Quebec modified a three-dimensional video game to create a computer-generated virtual reality environment as part of an anti-smoking program.
Out of 91 regular smokers enlisted in the 12-week program, 46 of them crushed computer-simulated cigarettes as part of psychosocial treatment, while the other 45 grasped a computer-simulated ball.
The group who crushed cigarettes had a "statistically significant reduction in nicotine addiction" compared with the ball-graspers, according to the study released Tuesday in the journal Cyber-Psychology and Behavior.
By the 12th week, abstinence among the cigarette crushers was 15 percent, compared with just two percent for the other group.
The crushers also stayed in the program longer, and at a six-month follow-up, 39 percent of them reported not smoking during the previous week, compared with 20 percent of the ball graspers.
"It is important to note that this study increased treatment retention," said Brenda Wiederhold, the journal's editor in chief, adding that such treatment should now be compared to other popular treatments such as the nicotine patch.
The study said some 45 percent of smokers in the United States try to quit each year, with limited success.