Using Smartphone Survey and GPS Data to Inform Smoking Cessation Intervention Delivery: Case Study

Amanda Luken, Michael R. Desjardins, Meghan B. Moran, Tamar Mendelson, Vadim Zipunnikov, Thomas R. Kirchner, Felix Naughton, Carl Latkin, Johannes Thrul

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Interest in quitting smoking is common among young adults who smoke, but it can prove challenging. Although evidence-based smoking cessation interventions exist and are effective, a lack of access to these interventions specifically designed for young adults remains a major barrier for this population to successfully quit smoking. Therefore, researchers have begun to develop modern, smartphone-based interventions to deliver smoking cessation messages at the appropriate place and time for an individual. A promising approach is the delivery of interventions using geofences—spatial buffers around high-risk locations for smoking that trigger intervention messages when an individual’s phone enters the perimeter. Despite growth in personalized and ubiquitous smoking cessation interventions, few studies have incorporated spatial methods to optimize intervention delivery using place and time information. Objective: This study demonstrates an exploratory method of generating person-specific geofences around high-risk areas for smoking by presenting 4 case studies using a combination of self-reported smartphone-based surveys and passively tracked location data. The study also examines which geofence construction method could inform a subsequent study design that will automate the process of deploying coping messages when young adults enter geofence boundaries. Methods: Data came from an ecological momentary assessment study with young adult smokers conducted from 2016 to 2017 in the San Francisco Bay area. Participants reported smoking and nonsmoking events through a smartphone app for 30 days, and GPS data was recorded by the app. We sampled 4 cases along ecological momentary assessment compliance quartiles and constructed person-specific geofences around locations with self-reported smoking events for each 3-hour time interval using zones with normalized mean kernel density estimates exceeding 0.7. We assessed the percentage of smoking events captured within geofences constructed for 3 types of zones (census blocks, 500 ft2 fishnet grids, and 1000 ft2 fishnet grids). Descriptive comparisons were made across the 4 cases to better understand the strengths and limitations of each geofence construction method. Results: The number of reported past 30-day smoking events ranged from 12 to 177 for the 4 cases. Each 3-hour geofence for 3 of the 4 cases captured over 50% of smoking events. The 1000 ft2 fishnet grid captured the highest percentage of smoking events compared to census blocks across the 4 cases. Across 3-hour periods except for 3:00 AM-5:59 AM for 1 case, geofences contained an average of 36.4%-100% of smoking events. Findings showed that fishnet grid geofences may capture more smoking events compared to census blocks. Conclusions: Our findings suggest that this geofence construction method can identify high-risk smoking situations by time and place and has potential for generating individually tailored geofences for smoking cessation intervention delivery. In a subsequent smartphone-based smoking cessation intervention study, we plan to use fishnet grid geofences to inform the delivery of intervention messages.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere43990
JournalJMIR mHealth and uHealth
StatePublished - 2023


  • GIS
  • GPS
  • adult
  • application
  • case study
  • cessation
  • delivery
  • health interventions
  • mHealth
  • mobile phone
  • smartphone
  • smartphone application
  • smoker
  • smoking
  • smoking cessation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics


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