That’s more than double the five percent of smokers in the control group, according to researchers at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University.
“Text messages seem to give smokers the constant reminders they need to stay focused on quitting,” said Lorien C. Abroms, Sc.D., M.A., an associate professor of prevention and community health and the lead author of the study.
“However, additional studies must be done to confirm this result and to look at how these programs work when coupled with other established anti-smoking therapies.”
A new Surgeon General’s report concludes that smoking kills nearly half a million Americans every year. Smokers trying to quit often turn to tried-and-true methods, such as nicotine patches or phone counseling.
The newest treatment is text messaging programs, such as Text2Quit, which send advice, reminders and tips that help smokers resist the craving for a cigarette and stick to a quit date.
While more than 75,000 people in the United States have enrolled in the Text2Quit program, there have been no long-term studies to test their success rate, according to Abroms. She noted that most of the existing research on these programs were small in size, lacked a control group, and did not biochemically verify smoking status.
To address these gaps, the research team recruited 503 smokers on the Internet and randomly put them in a group to receive a text-messaging program called Text2Quit or a group that received self-help material aimed at getting smokers to quit.
The text messages in the Text2Quit program give smokers advice, but they also allow smokers to ask for more help or to reset a quit date if they need more time. Smokers who have trouble fighting off an urge can text in and get a tip or a game that might help distract them until the craving goes away, Abroms explained.
At the end of six months, the researchers surveyed the participants to find out how many people in each group had stopped smoking. They found that people using the text-messaging program had a much higher likelihood of quitting compared to the control group.
But realizing that the self-reports of smokers can be misleading, the researchers collected a sample of saliva from smokers who reported quitting and tested it to see if it showed any evidence of a nicotine by-product called cotinine.
The quit rates for people with biochemically confirmed abstinence at the six-month mark were still two times higher than the control group, according to Abroms.
The researchers acknowledge that many questions remain. This study looked at only people who were already highly motivated to quit and those who were already searching for information on how to quit smoking on the Internet.
Additional studies will have to be done to verify that text-messaging programs do in fact work in less digitally connected populations and in those with lower levels of motivation to quit, the researchers noted.
In addition, researchers said they will have to compare this text-messaging program with others now in use, such as SmokefreeTXT, which was launched by the National Cancer Institute in 2011.
The study, which was funded by the National Cancer Institute, appeared in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.