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Study: Frequent Text Messages Can Help Smokers Quit

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Credit: ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/GettyImages

Credit: ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/GettyImages

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WASHINGTON (CBS DC) – Frequent and supportive text messages help many cigarette smokers kick the habit.

Dr. Robyn Whittaker of the University of Auckland in New Zealand compiled a review of five studies involving over 9,000 people attempting to quit smoking. In the studies, smokers received texts up to several times a day containing either motivational messages or advice on quitting.

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.

Dr. Whittaker and her 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.

While these numbers appear low, quitting is no easy task for any smoker.

“We all know it’s really hard to quit smoking,” Dr. Pamela Brar, an internist in private practice in La Jolla, Calif., told NPR News, adding 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.”

According to the American Lung Association, each year in the U.S. more than 393,000 people die from smoking-related disease, making it the leading cause of preventable death.

Smokers in the texting groups started with an online support system and set a date to quit. When that day arrived, Whittaker told NPR, so did practical advice via text messages. One example reads, “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.”

The messages were automated, but they could get personal.

Another example allowed someone starting to feel desperate to text a reply in just one word: “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.

Setbacks got a succinct, supportive response, as well.

“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,'” Whittaker told NPR. “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.”

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