Detecting Smoking Events Using Accelerometer Data Collected via Smartwatch Technology: A Feasibility Study

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Background: Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the world today. Ecological research on smoking in context currently relies on self-reported smoking behavior. Emerging smartwatch technology may more objectively measure smoking behavior by automatically detecting smoking sessions using robust machine learning models.

Objective: This study aimed to examine the feasibility of detecting smoking behavior using smartwatches. The second aim of this study was to compare the success of observing smoking behavior with smartwatches to that of conventional self-reporting.

Methods: A convenience sample of smokers was recruited for this study. Participants (N=10) recorded 12 hours of accelerometer data using a mobile phone and smartwatch. During these 12 hours, they engaged in various daily activities, including smoking, for which they logged the beginning and end of each smoking session. Raw data were classified as either smoking or nonsmoking using a machine learning model for pattern recognition. The accuracy of the model was evaluated by comparing the output with a detailed description of a modeled smoking session.

Results: In total, 120 hours of data were collected from participants and analyzed. The accuracy of self-reported smoking was approximately 78% (96/123). Our model was successful in detecting 100 of 123 (81%) smoking sessions recorded by participants. After eliminating sessions from the participants that did not adhere to study protocols, the true positive detection rate of the smartwatch based-detection increased to more than 90%. During the 120 hours of combined observation time, only 22 false positive smoking sessions were detected resulting in a 2.8% false positive rate.

Conclusions: Smartwatch technology can provide an accurate, nonintrusive means of monitoring smoking behavior in natural contexts. The use of machine learning algorithms for passively detecting smoking sessions may enrich ecological momentary assessment protocols and cessation intervention studies that often rely on self-reported behaviors and may not allow for targeted data collection and communications around smoking events.