Text Messages Help Smokers Kick The Habit | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

Text Messages Help Smokers Kick The Habit

Play associated audio

Some good news about texting: A review of studies published by the Cochrane Collaboration finds that smokers trying to quit the habit are helped in a big way by supportive messages sent via text.

We all know it's really hard to quit smoking. Dr. Pamela Brar, an internist in private practice in La Jolla, Calif., says only 5 percent of smokers succeed the first time they try to quit. "Most people will try over a five-year period, if they're really motivated, as many as six to eight times before they're successful," she says.

That's why the results of this new analysis are encouraging. With help from text messages, hopeful quitters actually doubled their chance of success.

Dr. Robyn Whittaker of the University of Auckland in New Zealand compiled the review of five studies involving over 9,000 people trying to quit smoking. The smokers received texts up to several times a day containing either motivational messages or quitting advice. In one study, smokers also received links to short video clips following someone's successful attempt to quit smoking. Smokers in the control groups received text messages less frequently or were given information online or support over the phone.

Overall, Whittaker and colleagues estimated that mobile phone messages increased the chance of quitting in at least six months — from 4 to 5 percent in control groups to between 6 and 10 percent in the texting groups.

Now this may not sound like major success, but a doubling of the odds of success is significant.

In the texting groups, smokers started with an online support system and set a date to quit. When that day arrived, Whittaker says, so did practical advice via text messages like this: "Today, you should get rid of all the ashtrays in the house or car; you should have a plan because it's going to be hard in the first few days; make sure you have a plan to get support from friends and family."

These were automated responses, but they could get personal. For example, if someone started to feel desperate, he could text a one-word reply: "Crave." In response, says Whittaker, he would receive tips about how to get through the cravings. Things like "take a walk" or "eat a little something." The good news, she says, is that cravings last only a few minutes.

And even setbacks got a quick, supportive response. "Sometimes people have one puff or a couple of puffs while out socially and think, 'Oh, no, it's all over, I've ruined it,' " says Whittaker. "But that's not true. A lot of people have little lapses like that, and we can just try and boost their motivation to keep going because they can keep going, even after a relapse."

Doubling the chance of success with text messages is no surprise to Brar. For the past two years, she's been texting her patients who want to quit. Take, for example, one patient who said he really needed help around the 5 p.m. happy hour.

"So, sure enough, for about two weeks every day at 5, I'd send him a text. His favorite was 'No ifs, ands, or butts,' and I'd send a little cigarette picture along with it."

It took five months, but he did quit. So did Brar's patient Diane Santos, who smoked for more than 30 years and typically got two text messages a day from Brar. The doctor, Santos says, would say things like, " 'You know you can do it.' 'You're strong.' 'You're a beautiful woman.' 'You deserve to have a healthy body.' "

Santos, who successfully quit and remains smoke-free today, says "she was like my cheerleader, really."

Nationwide, private groups and a number of state and local health departments are working to create new, online texting-support systems for smokers who want to kick the habit.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

The Colorful, Blossoming D.C. Arts Scene In The 1950s, '60s

In 1965 the work of six local painters went on exhibit at the now-defunct Washington Gallery of Modern Art. The show launched a movement, and the painters' work now hangs in major museums. One of those artists, now 97, lives in Arlington, Va.
NPR

Cash For Halloween Candy? Dentists' Buyback Program Is Booming

If you're like many parents, by tomorrow morning you'll be facing a candy glut. One possible solution? Sell it to a dentist participating in a program that sends candy care packages to troops.
NPR

For This Colorado Voter, Oil And Gas Debate Plays Out On His Property

Knocking on doors in Colorado, Steve Inskeep asks Antionio Covello about the election. The successful Denver business owner, a conservative, weighs mineral rights, foreign policy and division at home.
NPR

Selfies With Bears Prompt Warning From Park Rangers

Selfies with bears are showing up on Instagram. Rangers in South Lake Tahoe have been sufficiently worried to issue a warning: Wild bears are unpredictable, and could attack. #bearselfie

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.