Text messages providing tips, reminders and advice can help smokers quit, according to a new study.
Researchers found that this type of cellphone programme doubles the chances that a smoker will kick the habit.
"Text messages seem to give smokers the constant reminders they need to stay focused on quitting," said the study's lead author, Lorien Abroms. She is an associate professor of prevention and community health at George Washington University's Milken Institute School of Public Health, in Washington D.C.
Established anti-smoking therapies
"However, additional studies must be done to confirm this result and to look at how these programmes work when coupled with other established anti-smoking therapies," she said in a university news release.
Traditional methods to help people stop smoking include phone counselling and nicotine replacement therapies. The study's authors pointed out that research suggests text messaging on cellphones could also be effective.
Read: Quit smoking by phone
These programmes, such as Text2Quit and SmokefreeTXT, work by sending advice, reminders and tips to smokers' cellphones. These texts are intended to help people manage their cigarette cravings and stick to a set quit date. More than 75,000 people in the United States have enrolled in these programmes through quit lines, note the researchers.
The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine online, involved 503 smokers who were recruited from the internet. Smokers were randomly assigned to participate in a text-messaging programme or receive self-help material designed to help smokers quit.
Smokers involved in the texting programme were able to respond to their texts and ask for additional help or pick a new quit date. Those who faced a strong urge to smoke could send a text to receive a tip or a game that could help them overcome their craving for a cigarette.
A promising tool
After six months, the researchers found those using the text-messaging programme were much more likely to quit than the group that received self-help material. The study showed that 11 percent of smokers using the text-messaging programme quit and were still not smoking when the study ended. In contrast, only 5 percent of those who did not use the text-messaging programme did the same.
The researchers took saliva samples from the smokers who said they quit to confirm they actually stopped smoking. After screening the samples for traces of a nicotine byproduct, they found the quit rates for people with confirmed abstinence after six months was still twice as high as the other smoking group.
Although text-messaging programmes show promise as a tool to help people quit smoking, the study's authors pointed out their research involved people who were already motivated to quit and were looking for help. More studies are needed, they added, to see how these programmes work for people who are less motivated and not as technologically advanced.
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