(CNN)If you're trying to quit smoking, it could pay to acknowledge and accept your cravings rather than avoid them.
And downloading a smartphone app that takes that approach could increase your odds of success, according to a study published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.
"The problem is that when you try to avoid what you're feeling and what you're thinking, you paradoxically create more of what you're trying to avoid," said Jonathan Bricker, lead author of the new study and a professor in the cancer prevention program at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.
That approach to behavioral change could be beneficial to the more than one in 10 Americans who smoke.
One shortcoming of this tech-driven approach, however, is that it requires people trying to quit to have a smartphone and a working phone line, according to Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, an assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore and a volunteer spokesperson for the American Lung Association. He was not involved in the study.
"I need primary care physicians to be cognizant of this type of product being available," he said. However, this should be as an adjunct (to medical care), not as a replacement."
The majority of his patients are Black, he noted, and the average annual income for those in his surrounding community is about $15,000. Galiatsatos directs the Tobacco Treatment Center at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.
Although smoking tobacco has fallen to record lows, 34 million Americans still smoke, according to Smoking Cessation: A Report of the Surgeon General, which was released earlier this year.
Beyond proving that an acceptance-based plan could help people cut smoking longer term, Bricker and his team wanted to prove that tracking your progress on a digital app was practically useful. About 490 smoking cessation applications have been downloaded as many as 33 million times, according to data from SensorTower.com.
However, data is limited on how effective they actually are. So Bricker and his team took a deeper look.
They developed a randomized clinical trial comparing smokers using two different apps designed to help people crack the habit.
The app that helped people accept, rather than avoid, cravings was 50% more effective, the researchers found.
Facing your triggers
The study team enrolled 2,415 adult cigarette smokers, splitting them into two groups. In the first cohort, participants used iCanQuit, an app that the researchers developed, based on acceptance and commitment therapy, which teaches acceptance of smoking triggers. The goal of that approach is to quit smoking by appealing to one's values, and to encourage the user to allow an urge to smoke to pass without acting on it.
In the second group, smokers used the National Cancer Institute QuitGuide, an app designed to help people quit smoking by avoiding the triggers that drive people toward cigarettes. The NCI's app is based on the US Clinical Practice Guidelines for smoking cessation, which motivate people to quit with logic and reason.
The researchers followed up with the participants multiple times between May 2017 and September 2018.