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Text Messages Can Help Smokers Quit

June 30, 2011

According to a new study, people trying to quit smoking are twice as likely to succeed if they get mobile phone text messages that encourage them to quit.

British doctors recruited 5,800 smokers and randomly assigned them either to a group that received special text messages or to a control group.

The first group received five messages per day for the first five weeks and then three per week for the next six months.

The messages gave advice for keeping weight off while quitting and encouraged the participants to keep going.

“This is it! – QUIT DAY, throw away all your fags [cigarettes],” was an example of what they received on the day they started cessation. “TODAY is the start of being QUIT forever, you can do it!”

Volunteers in this group also had a personalized system in which they get help by texting the word “crave” or “lapse.”

When texting the word “crave, they would receive replies such as: “Cravings last less than 5 minutes on average. To help distract yourself, try sipping a drink slowly until the craving is over.”

If participants texted the word “lapse”, they would receive a response such as:  “Don’t feel bad or guilty if you’ve slipped. You’ve achieved a lot by stopping for a while. Slip-ups can be a normal part of the quitting process. Keep going, you can do it!”

Smokers in the control group received bland text messages thanking them for taking part or requesting confirmation of contact details or other messages that were unrelated to smoking.

Volunteers in both groups sent off samples of their saliva by mail.

The participants were tested for cotinine, which is a chemical found in tobacco, in order to determine if they were still smoking or had given up.

About 10.7 percent of the SMS group had been continuously abstinent after six months, compared to about 4.9 percent in the control group.

The researchers say the “txt2stop” trial demonstrated a powerful, low-cost tool for quitting.

Over two-thirds of the world’s population owned a mobile phone in 2009 and 4.2 trillion text messages were sent.

“Text messages are a very convenient way for smokers to receive support to quit,” Caroline Free of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who led the experiment, said in a statement.

“People described txt2stop as like having a ‘friend’ encouraging them or an ‘angel on their shoulder’. It helped people resist the temptation to smoke.”

Txt2stop is the latest investigation of mobile-phone messages as medical tools.

According to the World Health Organization, smoking kills about six million people every year, mostly in low and middle-income countries.

Previous research has found that text messages encourage smoking abstinence, but these experiments only lasted six weeks.

The study was published on Thursday by The Lancet medical journal.

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