Almost all of us have had trouble kicking a bad habit. There are all kinds of remedies available to support the necessary changes in behavior, and one of the newest is text messaging.
Mobile-based text messaging, or SMS, is currently taking on one of the most dangerous habits on the planet: cigarette smoking. QuitText, paid for by the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, is focusing its effort on young smokers, particularly teens and individuals in their early twenties.
What’s unique about this demographic is its sensitivity to mobile technology. According to Amelie Ramirez of the Texas Health Science Center, “…people in their early twenties spend a lot of time text messaging anyway, so this is a good way to reach them where they are.”
The program has a fairly simple design and function. Users just text IQUIT to a five-digit number and are then prompted to receive a set number of text messages per day encouraging them to stop smoking. The free service has users regularly update their smoking status and report relapses. Additionally, it offers emergency help for those that qualify.
"This way if you are a teen who is smoking, your personal coach is there with you all the time," Ramirez said.
So far, the default setting (four to eight daily messages) has been the most accepted with median use reaching 27 days of activity. While about half of the users did fail to report at least one update, relapse reports were considerably lower.
In a recent study published by the Journal of Applied Biobehavioral Research, the most important feature of the program was its variability—the fact that young smokers were able to stick (more or less) to the program.
According to the report, “Some users complied fully with the requirement to report status changes, while even among those who did not, many found QuitTxt to be very helpful, suggesting that perfect congruence between message content and quit status is not essential.”
In other words, whether or not users followed the program perfectly, they still felt good about the service—and sometimes that’s all you need to kick a bad habit.
Nicotine remains one of the most addictive drugs and the most challenging for people to quit, despite overwhelming evidence of its risks to personal health and the health of others.
If texting can somehow manage to break through to a few smokers and get them to quit, perhaps it’s a safe model that could be implemented to help aid others in ceasing addictive habits.