A new study by the American Cancer Society finds that smokers who received frequent, personalized emails with quitting tips, motivational messages and social support had quitting rates as high as those using the most effective cessation medication available.
The study is published in the journal Tobacco Control.
New communication methods, such as email and text messaging, have the potential to provide a cost-effective form of social support previously shown effective in tobacco cessation. For example, while telephone counseling has been shown to be effective for treating tobacco dependence in the past, its current reach is low.
For the new study, the researchers looked at the use of email, which has the advantage of being read daily or near-daily by most individuals. Email can also provide substantial content within the message itself, eliminating the need to access a specific website, and with the popularity of mobile phones and tablets, can be read on the go. Emails can also be tailored to address unique characteristics of the recipient.
To determine whether emails could be an effective tool in smoking cessation, the researchers recruited 1,070 smokers who were planning to quit. The participants were randomly assigned to receive one of three email protocols: 27 tailored cessation emails; three to four tailored emails with links to downloadable booklets; or a single non-tailored email.
All emails included links to quitting resources. To measure success, abstinence was assessed one, three, and six months post-enrollment by asking whether participants had smoked in the previous seven days.
Across all three follow-up times, the mean abstinence rate was highest for smokers getting the custom emails (34 percent), followed by receiving three or four emails (30.8 percent), and a single email (25.8 percent). Results were independent of baseline cigarettes per day, interest in quitting, whether there was a fellow smoker in household, and the use of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) or varenicline, a drug also approved for smoking cessation.
“The overall quit rate for the main intervention group is about equivalent to the abstinence rates achieved by the most effective medication for cessation,” said study leader J. Lee Westmaas, Ph.D., strategic director of tobacco control research at the American Cancer Society.
“It appears that the personalization in the emails and their frequency — initially every day then tapering off — gave people the assurance that someone cared about them, and wanted them to succeed. They were receiving daily or nearly-daily guidance about how to deal with issues that come up in their quit attempt, made possible by a relatively simple computer tailoring algorithm.”
The researchers plan to conduct a pilot study to help guide an intervention aimed at low socioeconomic status smokers, a group with higher smoking rates.
Source: American Cancer Society