Text messaging effective in helping smokers quit

Mobile phone-based interventions are an effective method for helping smokers to quit, according to a recently released review of evidence from five studies. The interventions included in the review primarily used text messaging via mobile phones to provide motivational messages, support and tips for stopping smoking, resulting in people being more likely to stay away from cigarettes over a six-month period.

Nevertheless, an earlier review by researchers published in 2009 identified two trials for mobile phone-based programs that did not find a long-term improvement in smoking cessation rates. The difference: the new review incorporated data from three additional studies, and as a result came to a different conclusion.

Similarly, last year two studies on the subject contradicted each other. One said texting reminders at key moments could help smokers break the habit. The other indicated the exact opposite, saying text-based smoking cessation programs were ineffective, at best.

In the latest review, researchers analyzed results from a total of five studies in which over 9,000 people trying to quit smoking received either motivational messages or quitting advice up to several times a day. Those in control groups received text messages less frequently, or were given online information or support over the phone.

There was some variation between the study results, but the larger, more recent studies showed higher improvements in quit rates after six months. Overall, the researchers estimated that mobile phone programs could nearly double the chance of quitting for at least six months--from 4 percent to 5 percent--in control groups, to between 6 and 10 percent in intervention groups.

"Mobile phone programs appear to be a useful option to offer those who want to stop smoking," lead researcher, Robyn Whittaker of the National Institute for Health Innovation at the University of Auckland in Auckland, New Zealand, said in a statement. "The largest trial that we included in our review, which involved 5,800 people in the U.K., can be considered definitive. However, we cannot say that all text messaging interventions will be effective in all contexts."

The authors of the review noted that more research is required into other forms of mobile phone-based interventions for smoking cessation, other contexts such as low income countries, and cost-effectiveness. In addition, the authors commented that there are no published studies on smartphone applications designed to help people stop smoking. However, they believe that research on the potential benefits of smartphone apps for smoking cessation is warranted as the effects may be quite different.

To learn more:
- here's the review abstract
- read the announcement