A number of recent studies have demonstrated the efficacy of SMS messaging as a tool for helping smokers kick the habit. Encouraging messages such as “Be Strong” and “You can do it!” may sound like empty platitudes, but they have been proven to work as abstinence aids in many territories and across many demographics.
Researchers from Brown University analyzed manuscripts from 20 countries documenting 22 anti-smoking SMS services. These mhealth interventions are helping people across the world connect their poor health to their decisions regarding what they put in their bodies. The messages are short, direct and supportive - redolent of the kind of encouragement you might receive from a friend - and are generally adapted (depending on lifestyle and circumstance) - to each participant; they provide regularly scheduled reminders to avoid cigarettes in a way that won’t alienate participants.
They seem to be working. At least, according to The Journal of Medical Internet Research, who published the study.
Further Research Needed
SMS services specializing in smoking cessation interventions are a relatively new phenomenon and, as such, require more clinical trials to put their effectiveness beyond doubt. The researchers behind the aggregation of SMS intervention studies are convinced that they work, but concede that more data on how and why they work is needed.
The Compatibility of mHealth and SMS
One of the most promising aspects of SMS services like this is their very low cost. Trials can be easily run without spending too much money; they’re capable of reaching a wide audience, and they’re quick to implement and harvest data from. The researchers describe further clinical trials as a ‘public health priority.’
As relatively modern technologies go, SMS messaging is so embedded in the culture that it can be relied upon to connect a large majority of the population. This makes it perfect as a cost-effective channel for communicating important information to the public at large. Thus far, it has proven enormously successful in the limited number of anti-smoking interventions to have been trialled. Let’s hope the mHealth community can build on that success and roll out similar SMS services - not just for smoking but for other public health issues.