Virtual Reality Smoking Cessation–Designed for Teens, by Teens

Brenda K. Wiederhold1, 2, *, Ian Miller3, Mark D. Wiederhold1
1 Virtual Reality Medical Center, San Diego, California, USA
2 Virtual Reality Medical Institute, Brussels, Belgium, Europe
3 Interactive Media Institute, San Diego, California, USA

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© 2017 Wiederhold et al.

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Virtual Reality Medical Center, San Diego, California, USA; Tel: 8586420267; E-mail:



Today, about 90% of adult smokers started smoking before the age of 18. As the largest preventable cause of disease and death in the United States, tobacco use accounts for nearly 500,000 deaths and hundreds of billions of dollars to care for smoking-related illnesses every year. While most smoking cessation programs are geared toward adults, there is a void in attempts to curb teen smoking.


With funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Virtual Reality Medical Center (VRMC) sought to create a more effective way to help teens quit smoking. Utilizing cue exposure therapy to eliminate the association of smoking with objects and activities, the program uses virtual environments containing smoking cues to elicit the addictive behaviors and teach the users how to recognize and resist these triggers.


In a novel approach, VRMC recruited students from a local high school to aid in the design and development of virtual worlds in order to create an entertaining and effective program for teens. Researchers and the participants of this TeenSmoking program created a variety of anti-smoking environments ranging from scenarios at home, to peer pressure situations at school, all intended to elicit and educate users on addictive smoking behaviors.


With past clinical success, researchers at VRMC hope to continue to implement widely available teen smoking cessation programs with enhanced usability, graphics, and multiplayer functionality. Overall, researchers hope to advance more comprehensive use of virtual reality to curb teen smoking addictions.

Keywords: Virtual Reality, Teens, Smoking Cessation, Cue Exposure Therapy, Addictive Smoking Behaviors, Anti-smoking Environments.