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NCI launches smoking cessation phone programs for teens

March 19, 2012

Because a cellphone is likely one thing a teenage smoker will pick up more often than a cigarette, the National Cancer Institute’s Smokefree Teen program offers SmokefreeTXT, a free mobile tool to help teens stop smoking.

“With 75 percent of youths between the ages of 12 and 17 owning a cellphone, there is immense potential for mobile technologies to affect health awareness and behavior change among teens,” said Erik Augustson, Ph.D., a behavioral scientist in the NCI’s Tobacco Control Research Branch.

SmokefreeTXT is a free mobile service designed for young adults that provides round-the-clock encouragement, advice and tips to help teens stop smoking for good. Teens can text the word QUIT to IQUIT (47848) from their mobile phones, answer a few questions and start receiving messages. Signups can also be initiated online at www.teen.smokefree.gov/smokefreeTXT.aspx, where participants can click on the button to answer a few questions and then start receiving texts.

Once they sign up, teens receive text messages timed according to their selected quit date. Following their quit date, they will continue receiving texts for up to six weeks. According to the NCI, the follow-up texts are a critical piece of the SmokefreeTXT service, because research shows that cessation support continues to be important beyond the first few weeks of quitting.

Not only will subscribers receive texts, they can ask for extra support whenever they are feeling shaky. Teens who are having a bad craving and need a reminder of why they shouldn’t pick up a cigarette can text the word WANT to IQUIT (47848) and receive an encouraging response. Those who are having a rough day and need a positive message can text BOOST to IQUIT. After a slip up, a subscriber can get extra encouragement to keep on going by texting UHOH to IQUIT. And, participants who want to opt out of the program just need to text STOP to IQUIT.

NCI says nearly 20 percent of teens are current smokers, and most will continue smoking into adulthood unless efforts are made to help them quit now. Many teens want to quit, but few use evidence-based cessation resources to support their attempts. By connecting with teen smokers on their mobile phones, NCI hopes the program will more effectively engage young people in quitting with proven cessation tools and strategies.

SmokefreeTXT is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ efforts to develop mobile health programs and is one of the core features of the Smokefree Teen initiative (www.teen.smokefree.gov), an extension of NCI’s smoking cessation website, www.smokefree.gov. Along with SmokefreeTXT, Smokefree Teen offers several social media pages to connect teens with cessation tools.

The NCI’s Smokefree Teen program has also launched two free smartphone apps through the iTunes App Store.

QuitSTART helps teens track cravings and moods, monitor progress toward achieving smokefree milestones, identify smoking triggers and upload personalized pick-me-ups and reminders to help stay smokefree.

The WordWeather App is a word game that allows users to race against the clock to spell words using falling letter raindrops. Flying hail bombers, snowflakes that help slow down the game and raindrop bonus points make the game a challenging adventure. Log on to www.teen.smokefree.gov/sftapps.aspx for links to download the apps.