Motivational text messages can help smokers quit

In collaboration with the Press Association

Smokers can be helped to quit by receiving motivational texts or video messages, according to a review of previous research studies.

People trying to give up were less likely to smoke during a six-month period if they received the positive messages and advice via their phones, the Cochrane review concluded.

The results - described as "encouraging" by Cancer Research UK's health information manager Dr Claire Knight - come from an analysis of five studies covering more than 9,000 smokers trying to kick the habit.

There were differences between the five studies included in the review, with participants in one study, for example, receiving brief video diary excerpts showing a role model's attempts to quit smoking.

Researchers identified variations in the results of the different studies but noted a general trend of better quit rates in the more recent, larger studies.

Looking at the data as a whole, the researchers estimated that motivational mobile phone schemes could almost double an individual's chances of quitting over a six-month period.

The quit rates among control groups of people, who did not receive motivational messages, were four to five per cent. By contrast, six to 10 per cent of people who received motivational text or video messages quit smoking.

This latest review marks a turnaround from a previous, smaller systematic review by Cochrane researchers published in 2009.

Just two trials for mobile phone-based interventions were identified in that review, which did not uncover any long-term improvement in quit rates.

But the new findings may arouse significant interest, given that mobile phone services for smokers are relatively inexpensive to run.

Lead researcher Robyn Whittaker, of the National Institute for Health Innovation, at the University of Auckland, in New Zealand, believes mobile phone schemes "appear to be a useful option" in smoking cessation efforts.

"The largest trial that we included in our review, which involved 5,800 people in the UK, can be considered definitive. At the very least it shows the efficacy of a mobile phone intervention in a developed country with good tobacco control policy," the academic said.

But Dr Whittaker sounded a note of caution in adding that text messages will not necessarily be beneficial to quit attempts in every context.

Cancer Research UK's Dr Knight stressed that new ways for helping people to stop smoking are "always welcome" given the habit's serious impact on health.

"Smoking remains the number one preventable cause of cancer worldwide and causes at least 14 types of cancer," she commented.

Copyright Press Association 2012

References

  • Cramp F, Byron-Daniel J. Exercise for the management of cancer-related fatigue in adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 11. Art. No.: CD006145. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD006145.pub3