Study shows benefits of motivational text messages for smoking cessation

In collaboration with Adfero

Smokers who receive motivational text messages are twice as likely to quit successfully as those who do not, UK scientists have found.

Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine carried out a trial of 5,800 smokers, all of whom had expressed a desire to quit.

Participants were divided into two groups, with 2,915 people assigned to the 'txt2stop' motivational text messaging strategy and the remaining 2,885 receiving non-motivational text messages.

The motivational strategy involved messages of encouragement up to the quit day, advice on preventing weight gain while quitting, and help with cravings.

One text read: "Cravings last less than 5 minutes on average. To help distract yourself, try sipping a drink slowly until the craving is over."

The non-motivational texts thanked people for participating in the study or asked for confirmation of contact details, but gave no encouragement or guidance on quitting.

After six months, participants provided saliva samples which were tested to determine whether or not they had successfully quit.

The results, which are published in the Lancet medical journal, show that smokers who received motivational text messages were more than twice as likely to have successfully quit after six months as those in the control group.

Biochemical testing confirmed that 10.7 per cent of people in the txt2stop group successfully abstained from smoking, compared with just 4.9 per cent of those in the control group.

The study authors noted that the text messages were effective both on their own and when used in conjunction with other techniques to aid quitting, and that a nationwide service would probably be "highly cost-effective".

They concluded: "To scale up the txt2stop intervention for delivery at a national or international level would be technically easy.

"On the basis of these results the txt2stop intervention should be considered as an addition to existing smoking cessation services."

Lead researcher Dr Caroline Free, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine's Clinical Trials Research Unit, added: "Text messages are a very convenient way for smokers to receive support to quit.

"People described txt2stop as like having a 'friend' encouraging them or an 'angel on their shoulder'. It helped people resist the temptation to smoke."

Cancer Research UK funded the original pilot study of txt2stop. Professor Robert West, the charity's expert in giving up smoking, commented: "The results of this trial are very exciting and extend the range of things we know that smokers can do to help themselves to break free from their addiction to cigarettes.

"We hope the Department of Health will feel able to turn this finding into a highly effective, low-cost national service to smokers who feel they're unable to attend the NHS stop-smoking services."

Writing in an accompanying comment, Drs Derrick Bennett and Jonathan Emberson, from the University of Oxford, noted that the method could also be effective in developing countries, where mobile phones are rapidly becoming more commonplace.

They observed: "The lessons learned from the txt2stop trial could therefore not only provide a new approach to smoking cessation in high-income and middle-income countries, but could also provide a useful starting point for implementing behavioural change in resource-poor settings."

References

Free C, et al (2011). Smoking cessation support delivered via mobile phone text messaging (txt2stop): a single-blind, randomised trial The Lancet DOI:10.1016/S0140-6736(11)60701-0