Feed the good wolf: creating a smoking cessation iPhone app

Feed the good wolf. This is the intriguing name of an app being created as an interdisciplinary project by Langara’s Computing Sciences & Information Systems (CSIS) instructor Bryan Green and four students. 

The app is being designed to help people quit smoking. Ironically, the inspiration for this high-tech project is an old Cherokee legend:An elder is teaching his grandson about life. 

“A fight is going on inside me,” he says to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil. He is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

“The other,” the old man continued, “is good. He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.

The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old man simply replied, “The one you feed.”

According to Stats Can’s 2014 report on smoking, a battle goes on everyday in the hearts and minds and neural pathways of 5.4 million Canadians — the 18% of our population who smoke. 

The outlook is not encouraging — 75% of smokers want to quit; 50% tried to quit in the past year; 11% were successful.1

Green thinks most smokers underestimate the power of their addiction.

“If you are going to do something as dramatic and difficult as quitting smoking, you should marshal as many resources as possible, and you should “feed the good wolf.”

With a $2,160 Langara RSAF grant in May 2016, the “Green Team” is applying First Nations wisdom, a little cognitive behavioural therapy, and smartphone technology to create an iPhone application that will increase people’s chances of success in quitting smoking.

Some researchers claim that quitting smoking is more difficult than kicking a cocaine or heroin habit. However, “feeding the good wolf” has immense potential savings for the individual and the community at large.

5,700 people die every year from smoking-related causes. Smoking costs our province an estimated $525 million (2002) annually in medical care; an estimated $904 million (2002) in productivity losses due to the premature deaths and excess disability of smokers; and millions more in costs are borne directly by BC employers.2

The app will encourage the user to catalogue their behaviour and recognize patterns. It will help to “feed the good wolf” by creating an inventory of people and places that decrease tension and avoid situations that encourage smoking.

1: http://www.tobaccoreport.ca/2015/TobaccoUseinCanada_2015.pdf  
2. http://www.gpiatlantic.org/publications/summaries/costoftobacco-bc-summ.pdf