Nagging text messages can help you to quit smoking

Nagging text messages help smokers to quit, Chinese researchers have found.

In a clinical trial carried out across various cities and provinces in China, they pulled in 1,369 people (mostly men) who agreed to join a smoking-cessation program. Then, they divided them into three groups: subjects who received five text messages/day, those who only received one to three texts a week, and a control group who didn’t receive any texts at all.

The study lasted 12 weeks, plus 12 weeks of follow-up. Very few smokers managed to quit, but the groups who got the texts did much better, regardless of how frequently they got messaged.

The results: biochemically verified continuous smoking abstinence after 24 weeks was 6.5% for those who were frequently messaged, 6.0% for those who got less frequent messages, and 1.9% for the control group that didn’t get messaged.

In an article published in the medical journal PLOS on Tuesday, the researchers said that the results demonstrate that text intervention – the program was called “Happy Quit – can work, albeit in a low proportion of smokers, and should be used in China’s large-scale intervention efforts.

The Chinese most certainly need it: the researchers note that the country’s population has the highest rate of cigarette smokers in the world. China’s smokers light up 40% of the world’s total number of consumed cigarettes.

The researchers say that text-based smoking cessation programs have proved cost-effective in other parts of the world. That’s good for China, the researchers say, given that the availability of smoking-cessation services is “extremely limited.”

If China’s situation is anything like that in the US, services and products such as nicotine gum or patches are also very expensive.

The researchers didn’t specify just what, exactly, their text messages said, but they did say that the Happy Quit messages were based on the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and were “aimed at improving self-efficacy and behavioral capability for quitting.”

There are pros and cons of CBT, a major one being cost. It takes a trained CBT therapist to lead smokers through unlearning old habits and learning new coping mechanisms, and that ain’t cheap.

A 6.0% to 6.5% success rate may seem very slight indeed, but when you’re talking about lung cancer and a crippling addiction, anything that makes a difference – and does so in an economical, easy-to-access way – is of utmost value.