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Text messages 'help smokers quit'

Motivational text messages sent to smokers' mobile phones can double their chances of giving up tobacco, a study published in The Lancet medical journal has found.

The "txt2stop" trial, conducted by London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and funded by the Medical Research Council, tested the effects of inspirational text messages designed to encourage quitting on almost 3,000 smokers.

The text messages, designed by experts with the help of smokers, provided encouragement up to "quit day", advice on keeping off weight while quitting and help with cravings.

One example read: "This is it! - QUIT DAY, throw away all your fags. TODAY is the start of being QUIT forever, you can do it!" Another, focusing on craving, read: "Cravings last less than five minutes on average. To help distract yourself, try sipping a drink slowly until the craving is over."

The randomly selected smokers in the programme received five text messages a day for five weeks, followed by three per week for the next six months. People were able to receive instant messages at times of need by texting the word "crave" or "lapse".

A similar-sized "control" group of smokers were sent texts simply thanking them for their participation, requesting confirmation of contact details or mentioning a range of topics not connected to smoking.

Saliva tests for a tobacco break-down chemical called cotinine were used to verify that smokers really had managed to quit for six months. The results showed a 10.7% success rate for those receiving the motivational texts compared with 4.9% for members of the control group.

Dr Caroline Free, from the LSHTM, who led the trial, said: "Text messages are a very convenient way for smokers to receive support to quit. People described txt2stop as being like having a 'friend' encouraging them or an 'angel on their shoulder'. It helped people resist the temptation to smoke."

Professor Max Parmer, director of the Medical Research Council clinical trials unit, said: "By carrying out a large scale trial like this to see whether text messages can help people truly free themselves of their addiction, this research has shown that texting could be a powerful tool to help people to walk away from cigarettes for good."

Glyn McIntosh, from the smoking cessation group QUIT, which helped develop the text messages and recruit volunteers for the study, said: "We are delighted with the results and hope that text motivation will now become a standard part of the quitting process."

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