Text Messages Could Help Smokers Kick The Habit

If you're looking for support while trying to stop smoking, an international study suggests text messaging could help. Four trials conducted in New Zealand, Britain, and Norway found that programs to help people stop smoking that included text messages with advice doubled the chances a person would be able to quit smoking for up to a year.

The trials involved 2,600 smokers. During the trials, text messages were used as a way to give smokers advice, encouragement, and support. For example, if a user found himself craving nicotine, he could text "crave" to the program and receive advice on what to do.

"We know that stopping smoking can be really difficult and most people take several attempts to quit successfully," researcher Robyn Whittaker from the University of Auckland in New Zealand told Reuters Health. "It is important to be able to offer lots of different options for extra support."

Two of the four studies considered programs that involved only text messages. These studies showed the text message programs doubled the chances smokers would quit over six weeks. The other two studies focused on a program in Norway that uses text messages, emails, and a dedicated Web site. These studies found that smokers who used the program were twice as likely to be smoke-free for up to one year.

According to Whittaker, only about 5% of smokers are able to kick the habit without any help. Txt2Quit, one of the programs in the study, is running in New Zealand with government funding. This program automatically sends users two to three text messages per day shortly before a designated quit date and for a month afterwards. Of the people who took part in the program's first year, one-third did not smoke four weeks after their quit date. That figure dropped to 16% after 22 weeks.

Although the studies found the majority of smokers taking part in the studies did not succeed in quitting, regardless of whether they had text messaging help, the studies do show that text messages could be another tool in the smoking-cessation arsenal. They also show that text message support programs could be effective for some people because the programs provide support when cravings strike. As Whittaker put it, "The frequent messages can also act as a good reminder and motivation to keep going."