Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

R U Ready To Quit Smoking? Texting Can Help

Want a cig? Researcher Lorien Abroms displays a sample Text2Quit message.
William Atkins
George Washington University
Want a cig? Researcher Lorien Abroms displays a sample Text2Quit message.

Smokers who want to quit have all sorts of tools at their disposal: call lines, nicotine patches, medication, friends, doctors. And now, texts.

Getting counseling through text messages doubled the odds of kicking the habit compared with those who relied on Internet searches and basic information brochures, a study published Friday in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found. It's one of the few long-term randomized trials looking at the effectiveness of texting as a method to help people quit smoking.

The participants were enrolled in Text2Quit, a publicly available Web-based program that sends personalized texts and emails to smokers to help them cut down as they approach a target quit date.

In moments of weakness, people could text keywords like "CRAVE" or "STATS" to receive tips about fighting cravings, an update on their progress or even a trivia game they could play to distract them.

"I was interested in helping people quit smoking with cognitive behavioral therapy, and given the widespread use of cellphones, I thought this was a neat opportunity," says Lorien Abroms, a professor at George Washington University's School of Public Health in Washington, D.C., and the brain behind the program.

Abroms got the idea about five years ago, when there weren't other options available for receiving counseling or medical advice via text. So she started developing a program herself. Since Text2Quit was licensed and launched in 2012, about 120,000 people have enrolled.

In the trial, Abroms and her colleagues recruited 503 people by posting an ad on Google that would appear when people searched phrases like "quitting smoking" or "how to stop smoking." They randomly assigned some to enroll in Text2Quit. The others received a brochure in the mail and were encouraged to search for self-help materials online.

The researchers checked in with participants, who tended to skew female and white, four times over the course of six months to monitor their progress. Those who couldn't be followed up with were classified as "smokers."

By the end of the six months, at least 11 percent of the participants using Text2Quit had successfully quit. Only 5 percent of the participants using self-help materials had quit. (The researchers verified the self-reports by taking saliva samples, which shaved the numbers down by about half.)

That may not seem like a big deal, but it means that even with a conservative estimate, texting doubled a participant's chances of quitting. And, Abroms points out, it's about as effective as other methods, including phone counseling.

"We have a number of proven therapies in the U.S. that are recognized," says Abroms, like calling a help line or using a nicotine replacement patch. "But now we're accruing more evidence that we can also use text messaging on mobile phones. So we have another tool to quit smoking."

In a small pilot study published in 2012, the researchers asked people who were getting counseling from both a call line and Text2Quit which one they liked better and why.

"They liked that the texts came in the daytime," says Abroms. "Rather than scheduling a 45-minute phone conversation, usually at night, they could just glance down at their phone during the day. It was a constant reminder that they were quitting smoking."

But there's room for improvement. Now that call lines are offering Text2Quit as a complement to phone counseling, Abroms says she'd like to find out if combining the two increases the odds of success.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Rae Ellen Bichell
Rae Ellen Bichell is a reporter for NPR's Science Desk. She first came to NPR in 2013 as a Kroc fellow and has since reported Web and radio stories on biomedical research, global health, and basic science. She won a 2016 Michael E. DeBakey Journalism Award from the Foundation for Biomedical Research. After graduating from Yale University, she spent two years in Helsinki, Finland, as a freelance reporter and Fulbright grantee.
Latest Stories