Creating an App to Help American and Russian University Students Connect and Quit Smoking

At NYU School of Medicine's Section on Tobacco, Alcohol, and Drug Use, we are developing and evaluating a smart phone application with the potential to reduce smoking among college students in the United States and Russia, while also encouraging cross-cultural awareness in both countries. The study is called Developing a Bi-national Buddy Intervention for Smoking Cessation and Cultural Education.

Globally, smoking is one of the leading preventable causes of death, yet there are currently no evidence-based, well-used apps that address smoking cessation. Apps that are currently available are either poorly-designed or not engaging, which limits their public health impact. These mobile apps typically include calculators, calendars, hypnosis, rationing and multiple other approaches, and among the apps available in the U.S. as recently as 2011, only 3 percent incorporated strategies that have been shown to work. Additionally, the apps that work have not been rigorously evaluated for how useable or effective they are.

Goals of our study

Study team members at the New York City workshop to develop the application content and features
Front, left to right: Maia Rusakova, Olga Kolpakova, Jodie Abbatangelo-Gray, Marina Kutsak, Sabrina Moreira, Alissa Link, Alex Bogomolny
Back, left to right: Steve Sussman, Ksenia Eritsyan, Paul Krebs, Scott Sherman, Jenni Shearston, Omar El-Shahawy

We are working to develop the framework and content of an interactive app for smoking cessation that uses a bi-national buddy system -- connecting an American university student with a Russian university student -- and enhance cross-cultural awareness between the two. We will assess how the app is adopted and its feasibility and efficacy. Our study also brings together a bi-national network of multidisciplinary professionals around this issue.

Meet the team

Led by Scott Sherman, MD, MPH, associate professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU School of Medicine and Maia Rusakova, PhD, from Regional NGO Stellit, a nonprofit in St. Petersburg, Russia, the study team is comprised of professionals with a broad range of expertise, including smoking cessation, mHealth, working with disadvantaged youth, and health communication.

What we learned about smoking among teens in the U.S. and Russia

Our research teams from New York City and St. Petersburg began the app development process by surveying 139 students in both countries (78 from the U.S. and 61 from Russia) about their smoking habits and interest in smoking cessation apps, as well as their opinions about certain proposed app features. Additionally, we conducted a focus group in Russia to ask about interest in our app design, which we will follow with additional focus groups in both countries. Using the information we learned from the focus group and surveys, the teams held international workshops to develop the content and features for the app.

Here is some key information we learned from our surveys:

  • 75 percent of Russian young adults and 28 percent of American young adults we surveyed started smoking before the age of 18
  • 69 percent of Russian young adults and 39 percent of American young adults smoked for all 30 days before the survey

Developing our app based on what young adults told us

Our team explored young adults’ interest in using a smoking cessation app, including their interest in peer support and gaming strategies for quitting that we intend to include in the app. Our respondents indicated that the following components would make the app attractive:

  • Choosing a quit buddy by a set of matching characteristics – 88 percent
  • Viewing progress through a tracking system – 83 percent
  • Tracking cravings – 78 percent
  • Setting a quit date feature – 66 percent
  • Reminders to send support messages to peers – 67 percent

Our teams are currently working hard to bring American and Russian young adults an innovative app in smoking cessation. We are partnering with Alex Bogomolny at Cognotion to develop the actual product, and will then conduct usability and pilot testing. Stay tuned for updates!


Our team is currently pilot testing the smoking cessation app with 15 student participants from the U.S. and Russia. We will continue to post updates on the study.


Our funder is the US-Russia Social Expertise Exchange (SEE), a diverse network of social experts and entrepreneurs from Russia and the U.S. engaged in a meaningful exchange of ideas and best practices to produce positive change in the lives of citizens in both countries. These experts implement mutually beneficial collaborative initiatives that address common societal issues across a diverse range of thematic areas. SEE also offers opportunities for social experts to receive short-term professional awards to travel to the opposite country and to help implement these bilateral projects while expanding their own networks. SEE is implemented by Eurasia Foundation.

Photo Credit: Above photograph of buildings in Russia by Jodie Abbatangelo-Gray