NIDA Internet-based Virtual Environment to Curb Teen Smoking

Smoking is an addiction that kills 440,000 Americans each year, yet 2,000 adolescents begin smoking every day. The Virtual Reality Medical Center (VRMC) hopes to reach these smokers while they still have the chance to choose to quit. VRMC researchers are experts in the field of virtual reality (VR) and smoking, with experience conducting several smoking studies, including a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study.

We believe that our knowledge of smoking cues will successfully help smokers quit. We expect that smokers engaged in the Internet-based VR program will experience a reduction in urges to smoke and a decrease in the number of cigarettes smoked weekly.

The Internet-based VR game will guide smokers through several rooms and scenarios containing smoking cues. Participants will then learn how to face the cues and urges to smoke, and overcome them. In Phase II, a physiological monitoring system will be attached to the smokers so they can receive objective data as to how they are reacting to the smoking cues. This will better allow them to control their cravings and quit smoking. Through this VR game, VRMC will provide adolescents with an engaging tool to beat their smoking addiction.

VRMC has a business agreement in place to deliver this program to Department of Defense (DoD) dependents via DefenseWeb’s Xtendable Server (a .NET open standards modular application platform and content management system developed specifically to meet the changing requirements of the DoD).

Based on this VR game for health, VRMC won a Technology Niche Assessment Program award from the National Institutes of Health in January 2007.

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