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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Text and video messages designed to help people quit smoking nearly doubled the success rate for attempted quitters, compared to people who didn't have such assistance, in a new review of several studies.
Researchers found nine percent of would-be quitters made it without cigarettes for at least six months when reminded and encouraged through cell phone messages, compared to five percent who went it alone.
"We can't say all text messaging interventions are going to work. It depends on how they were developed, but it certainly shows there's reason to believe that mobile phone-based interventions are a good option to think about adding to your portfolio of smoking cessation services," said Robyn Whittaker, the lead author of the review from the University of Auckland in New Zealand.
Cell phone programs included in the review involved a text or video sent to smokers each day for several weeks, preparing them for their designated quit day with motivation and advice.
Once the quit day arrived, participants often received multiple messages a day for weeks, offering encouragement, tips on getting through cravings and additional resources to get back on the horse after a relapse.
In an earlier review of the research several years ago, Whittaker and her colleagues found such interventions were helpful in the first few weeks of quitting, but there wasn't enough evidence to say whether they had any impact beyond that.
In their latest analysis, published in The Cochrane Library, the group was able to include three more studies - for a total of five - comparing cell phone messaging to no extra help. Whittaker and other review authors were involved in most of these original studies.
The reports included a total of 9,100 smokers who were tracked for six months.
Out of 4,730 people assigned to a text or video messaging program, 444 managed to kick the habit.
Among the 4,370 who didn't receive any additional services, 240 stopped smoking for six months.
"The numbers are still small (for people who succeeded in quitting with help from cellular messaging), but not so much smaller than other public health interventions like quit lines," said Lorien Abroms, a community health researcher at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services in Washington, DC, who was not involved in the study.
Quit lines offer free, telephone-based counseling with a live person.
Abroms said help lines get about 14 percent of attempted quitters to succeed in stopping smoking.
Although texting might not be quite as effective, the mobile phone programs are automated and easy to scale up for widespread use, Abroms told Reuters Health.
Whittaker said there's not enough evidence yet to confirm whether those programs are cost-effective - but they're likely cheaper than hiring counselors.
Some cell phone-based quitting aids are available for a fee, such as the Text2Quit program that Abroms designed, which costs $29.99 for a four-month subscription. Others are free through the U.S. government's SmokefreeTXT program.
Whittaker said although most people will continue to smoke even if they try a texting program, it's important to offer smokers as many tools as possible to help them through their attempts.
"Quitting smoking is very hard, of course. We know most people take several attempts to quit... so what we're really trying to do is provide options for people so for each attempt they can see what works for them," she told Reuters Health.
SOURCE: bit.ly/bVvvzJ The Cochrane Library, November 14, 2012.