HealthTech
21 November 2019

Not Just “Blowing Smoke”: The Rising Vaping Epidemic and How Digital Health Solutions Can Help Extinguish It 

Written by Kristina Day

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Vaping is a public health epidemic tightening its grip on the next generation of nicotine addicts. Over 5 million middle and high school students reported e-cigarette use in the past month, with nearly 1 million daily users.

These disturbing rates emphasize the growing popularity of e-cigarettes, contributing to its rise to the most commonly used tobacco product among youth for the past 5 years and counting. In 2011, e-cigarette use among high school students was just 1.5%. Today, that rate has increased by over 1700% to 27.5%, the highest it has ever been. With health consequences ranging from addiction to brain development impairments to increased risk of cancer, the evidence screams for aggressive action. 

WHY NOW?

As of November 5, 2019, 2,051 cases of vaping associated lung injury have been reported to the CDC from 49 states, D.C., and 1 U.S. territory with 39 confirmed deaths. This technology, initially developed as a digital health solution for adult cigarette smoking cessation, has found its way into the hands of 5 million middle and high school students and, in 2018, was declared an epidemic by the U.S. Surgeon General. On September 24, 2019, Massachusetts’ Governor Charlie Baker stated a public health emergency; “The sale or display of all vaping products to consumers in retail establishments, online, and through any other means […] is prohibited in the Commonwealth”.  In the wake of this aggressive legislative action, where does digital health fit in? 

A 2016 systematic review and meta-analysis of internet interventions for smoking cessation—aimed at determining the effectiveness of digital technology in addiction treatment—concluded that these interventions are superior to other broad reach cessation interventions, are as effective as current treatment modes, and have a critical role to play in the arsenal of anti-addiction tools. 

With the recent announcement coming from 2Morrow, Inc.—a leader in pioneering solutions for people addicted to nicotine—of a new app offering an innovative model of cessation support that enables prevention efforts to reach millennials, the spotlight is on digital health technologies to free our youth from vaping’s tightening grip. I turned my attention to a national leader in smoking cessation and healthcare innovation to find some of the most promising technologies loosening that hold: Massachusetts.

As the state with the 6th lowest rate of smoking in the nation, what is Massachusetts doing to drive down smoking? Massachusetts, a hub for technology and digital health innovation, is turning to three companies on the frontlines of addiction treatment and smoking cessation for the answer: Vincere Health, DynamiCare Health, and Lumme Labs.  

VINCERE HEALTH: A nudge towards better health

Studies show that groups that are given financial incentives end up with a quit rate three times than a group without incentive. Evidence is fairly strong that shortening the period between action and reward—often through incentives—hits a trigger in human psychology to drive people to change their behavior. 

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Shalen DeSilva, Vincere Health

Vincere Health, a startup spun out of Harvard Innovation Lab, is united under the common goal of empowering people to overcome smoking with the best tools at its disposal: technology, behavioral science, and economics. Driven by the desire to incentivize people to make healthy choices using wearables and connected health monitoring backed by behavioral science research, Vincere developed a versatile platform to seamlessly and securely marry positive behaviors to instant rewards. 

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health graduates Shalen DeSilva and Jake Keteyian founded Vincere with a focus on smoking cessation, an issue that hit close to home; Keteyian had family members who struggled with nicotine dependence, and DeSilva had gone through the quitting process himself. Vincere aspires to be a model for the union of multi-disciplinary skill sets around a significant public health issue. 

DYNAMICAREHEALTH: An accountability companion for recovery

DynamiCare Health is a Boston-based, digital platform that empowers users to monitor and change their use of substances. The platform offers a digital automation of Contingency Management, an evidence-based methodology effective at achieving healthy change for use of all types of substances across over 100 randomized control trials and seven meta-analyses. 

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Eric Gastfriend, DynamiCare Health

Through video-verified drug tests, GPS treatment attendance tracking, and financial incentives, DynamiCare is an evidence-based, cost-effective, and scalable solution to one of the largest problems facing healthcare. Harvard MBA tech executive Eric Gastfriend and his father Dr. David R Gastfriend, an international expert in addiction psychiatry founded DynamiCare in 2016 and have grown it into a company hailed for its ability to pivot, hustle, and adapt to push the envelope and change the game of addiction recovery. 

LUMME LABS: Cracking the code to beat addiction

Lumme is making affordable, accessible healthcare a reality for all by designing technology that redefines what healthcare has to offer. Through the development of a cutting-edge addiction treatment platform that combines wearable technology and machine learning with behavioral psychology, Lumme is pushing the boundaries of digital health’s role in solving the addiction problem. 

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Akshaya Shanmugam, Lumme Labs

Named to both Forbes 30 under 30 and MedTech Boston 40 under 40 healthcare innovation lists, Akshaya Shanmugam founded Lumme by combining her research experience—focusing on developing low-cost disease screening and health monitoring systems—with her entrepreneurial spirit. Together, she created a solution to help people lead healthier lives; Lumme’s platform is a therapist in your back pocket on a mission to deliver comprehensive solutions through detection, prediction, and prevention. 

WHAT’S NEXT?

As 2019 wraps up, we look to 2020 to be the year to extinguish the vaping epidemic. The Massachusetts State House is currently in session to advance a bil, dubbed An Act Modernizing Tobacco Control, that calls for increased tax on electronic nicotine delivery systems and increased access to cessation services. This historic and comprehensive bill, if passed in its current form, would set Massachusetts apart from the rest of the nation as a leader in protecting its youth from the deadly risk of tobacco addiction.

While we wait to see if this bill is passed and what that could mean for the future of vaping in Massachusetts and beyond, digital health technologies for addiction treatment and smoking cessation may just be what our 5 million addicted youth need to take control of their own lives and free themselves from vaping’s suffocating grip.  

 

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