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Text message support for smokers doubles quit rates

30 June 2011


The txt2stop trial, funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC), has shown that motivational and supportive mobile phone messages are effective in helping people beat smoking addiction. Scientists at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) found that quit rates doubled - from 4.9% for those not receiving supportive texts to 10.7% for participants in the programme – after six months.


A total of 5,800 smokers took part in the trial, in which they were randomly allocated to the txt2stop programme or a control group. All the participants were provided with Quit, the NHS smoking cessation helpline number and their local smoking cessation services number if they wished. The txt2stop group received five specially-designed text messages a day for the first five weeks, and then three per week for the next 26 weeks. The system also allowed people to receive instant messages at times of need by texting the words ‘crave’ or ‘lapse’. The researchers examined the long-term effects of receiving the text messages by testing the levels of cotinine (a chemical found in tobacco) in participants’ saliva, after they reported stopping smoking for six months.


LSHTM clinical lecturer and GP Dr Caroline Free, who led the research, 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 Parmar, director of the Medical Research Council clinical trials unit, said:

“Smoking kills more than five million people each year, and two out of every three smokers have said at some point that they would like to give up. The MRC funds important large-scale trials like txt2stop to help uncover what methods of support can make a real difference in beating addiction. There’s a clear evidence base emerging here – texting could be a powerful tool to help people walk away from cigarettes for good. The MRC has been tackling the problem of smoking for over half a century – our scientists were the first to find the link between smoking and cancer – and we continue to focus on gold standard research that changes lives.”


The messages, which were developed with input from smokers and smoking cessation professionals, encouraged participants to persevere and focused on their success so far. Examples of the messages include:

  • “This is it! – QUIT DAY, throw away all your fags. TODAY is the start of being QUIT forever, you can do it!”
  • “Cravings last less than 5 minutes on average. To help distract yourself, try sipping a drink slowly until the craving is over”.


Control group participants received fortnightly text messages thanking them for taking part in the trial. The results showed that continuous abstinence, verified by chemical tests at six months, was significantly increased in the txt2stop group: 10.7% success txt2stop versus 4.9% success control. The study found txt2stop worked well for all ages and across all social groups.


The results are published in The Lancet today. The LSHTM collaborated with the University of Auckland and the George Institute for Global Health, University of Sydney. Other collaborators included QUIT, a UK charity which helps smokers who want to give up, and Primary Care Research Networks. Cancer Research UK funded the pilot study.

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