Advice and encouragement from text messages may help people quit smoking, a review of research suggests. The study was done by the Cochrane Collaboration. This is an independent group that offers expert review of medical research on various topics. In this case, the reviewers looked at 5 earlier studies. They included about 9,000 people. All of the studies randomly divided people into 2 groups. One group received regular text and/or video messages to help them quit smoking. The other group received a different form of support. People in this group got occasional phone calls or texts. After 6 months, people who received the text or video messages were more likely to be still not smoking. In the largest study, involving 6,000 people, about 9% of those in the text group were still not smoking after 6 months. About 4% of those who did not receive texts were smoke-free. The Cochrane Review published the study. BestHealth, a news service of BMJ.com, wrote about it.
By Reena L. Pande, M.D.
Harvard Medical School
What Is the Doctor's Reaction?
We get text messages from friends and family. What if we were to get text messages about our health? Increasingly, the mobile phone is being used to help with many health-related issues. Smartphones, with computer technology, have widened the possible uses of the mobile phone even further.
Here are some examples of how your phone might be used today to help with health care:
- Reminders about clinic appointments and confirmation by reply texting
- Reminders to take medicines
- Motivational tips (for diet and exercise)
- Educational information (for various conditions, such as diabetes, pregnancy and heart disease)
- GPS (global positioning system) tracking of physical activities such as walking and running
- Smartphone applications to track nutrition, diet and exercise, and to promote behavior change
A recent analysis of research suggests that text messages can help people quit smoking, too. The analysis combined information from 5 studies. They included more than 9,000 people.
In this collection of studies, some smokers received motivational messages and advice on quitting. Others did not receive the same text messages or received them less often. Instead, they got occasional support over the phone.
The smokers who got text and video messages on their mobile phones were almost twice as likely to stay away from cigarettes for at least six months.
Overall, the number of people who quit was still low (only 6% to 10% of the text messaging group after 6 months). This reminds us just how hard it is to quit even with help.
What Changes Can I Make Now?
There are so many different tools that can help you quit. You and your doctor need to work together to find the one that's best for you. Here are some options:
- Nicotine replacement: Nicotine is the substance in cigarettes that's so addictive. Many products containing nicotine can be used as a substitute for nicotine in cigarettes. They include nicotine gums, sprays, lozenges and patches. Some are available over the counter and some by prescription only.
- Medicines: Two common medicines to help with the cravings are bupropion (also known as Zyban or Wellbutrin) and varenicline (also known as Chantix). Studies suggest that about 1 in 4 smokers who use medicines are still off cigarettes after 6 months.
- Other tools: Most of these are less well studied but may work for you. They include hypnosis, support groups, acupuncture and electronic cigarettes.
What can you do right now to quit?
- First, you have to decide to quit. You won't succeed if you don't really want to do it.
- Pick a quit date. Put the date on your calendar. Tell your friends and family so they know and can support you.
- Have a plan. Decide what tools you will use to quit.
- Practice saying the following: "No thank you. I don't smoke." This will make it easier to turn down someone who offers you a cigarette.
November 15th is the American Cancer Society's "Great American Smokeout." Make a decision to quit today. It could be the smartest thing you do for your health.
What Can I Expect Looking to the Future?
You should expect to see greater use of mobile phones and smartphones to help support health interventions and health education. Millions of people, including large portions of the developing world, are using mobiles phones regularly. Mobile phones provide health care systems with the opportunity to reach large numbers of people quickly, often and without requiring an office visit.
Quitting smoking is hard, but a simple text message reminding you to stick with it may just make it a little easier.