- Personalized text messages helped smokers who were trying to quit more than just receiving self-help materials.
- Smokers who received text messages after quitting smoking were more likely to have biomarkers confirming abstinence.
- 25 percent of quit lines offer anti-smoking text messaging programs.
Sending smokers individualized text messages to their mobile phones was found to be twice as effective at helping them quit smoking compared to simply providing self-help materials, according to a study in American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
The personalized text messages offered users tips on quitting, with five texts sent the day they said they would quit and two per day in the week following. The frequency of text messages later tapered off to three and then one per week. Smokers who relapsed could pick a new quit date and start the program over. Encouraging texts included top health reasons to quit smoking and the amount of money saved by quitting.
“Previously, phone texting programs to help people quit smoking have been shown to be effective in other countries. This is the first long-term study in the United States,” according to Lorien C. Abroms, Sc.D., associate professor of prevention and community health at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and lead author of the study.
For the study, more than 500 smokers were randomized to be either in a group that received text messages or a control group that received self-help materials. Participants were asked to pick a date on which they planned to stop smoking and were surveyed about their smoking upon entering the study and at 1, 3 and 6 months afterward.
Smoking cessation was confirmed by testing mailed saliva samples for cotinine, a biomarker associated with tobacco use. Of those who received text messages, 11.1 percent were abstinent compared to 5 percent in the control group. When self-reported abstinence was measured, nearly 20 percent of the texting group said they had quit, compared to 10 percent of the control group.
Texting programs offer a cost-effective method to help smokers quit and are offered through 25 percent of smoking quit lines, said Abroms. Some smoking quit lines offer trained counselors to help people quit smoking, and a texting program can be offered as a stand-alone service or combined with phone counseling. “The potential for reach is wide and they are fairly low cost compared to more traditional types of therapy,” she noted.
“Anything that can help anyone quit is good. You need a variety of techniques available,” said Chris Bostic, J.D., deputy director for policy at Action on Smoking and Health, an advocacy group in Washington. “Even if something like texting only has a marginal effect on the quit rate, it should be added to menu of options available to smokers who want to quit.”
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Abroms LC, Boal AL, Simmens S, et al.: A randomized trial of Text2Quit: A text messaging program for smoking cessation. Am J Prev Med. 2014.