GW Professor Creates Mobile-Based Smoking Cessation Program

October 26, 2011

Lorien Abroms holds up iPhone screen with Text2Quit texts on it

Smokers who are looking to quit now have access to an interactive mobile-based smoking cessation program thanks to Lorien Abroms, a professor in the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.

Text2Quit delivers up to 300 customized educational messages based on the user’s own quit date. The program offers personalized advice on quitting and messages with information on prescription and over-the-counter cessation aid therapies. The program collects data to help users monitor their achievement toward their goal and offers mobile-based games to help users fight off cravings. When users feel a craving coming on, they can text “CRAVE” to get additional help.

“Large randomized trials have shown that text-based smoking cessation programs nearlydouble abstinence rates. The effect is comparable to what we see for other population-based methods such as getting counseling from a quitline,” said Dr. Abroms.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 46 million Americans – or more than 20 percent of the U.S. population – smoke, and about 17 million smokers try to quit each year, but only 1.3 million succeed.

Text2Quit will especially impact low-income individuals, who might not have access to other smoking cessation therapies or programs, particularly ones that are web-based, said Dr. Abroms, who received an award from the National Cancer Institute to help design the program.

“Minorities and low socio-economic groups don’t have routine access to desktop computers and e-mail, but they are likely to have a mobile phone,” she said.

A recent Pew Research report found that 85 percent of adults own a cell phone and 72 percent use their phone to send or receive text messages. And more than 80 percent of people covered under Medicaid send text messages on a regular basis, according to a 2010 PricewaterhouseCoopers Health Research Institute report.

Text2Quit is offered on a subscription basis and is available through employers, health plans and public health departments. Last month, Alere Wellbeing Inc. announced it will begin offering Text2Quit as part of its Quit for Life Program, a tobacco cessation phone- and web-based program offered in 27 states and more than 650 employers and health plans.

Voxiva, a mobile health services company, took Dr. Abroms’ design and created the technology behind Text2Quit. Voxiva is also the creator of the Text4Baby technology, which sends free text messages to expecting and new mothers.

“We are using our highly scaled mobile health platform to put this service into the hands of hundreds of thousands of smokers that otherwise would not have access to smoking cessation support,” said Justin Sims, Voxiva’s chief executive officer.

One in five deaths in the U.S. is the result of smoking while tobacco use costs the U.S. $97 billion in lost productivity and $96 billion in health care costs, according to the American Cancer Society.

“In addition to a huge impact on quality of life, there is a compelling return on investment in smoking cessation programs for employers, health plans and government,” said Mr. Sims. “By doubling abstinence rates, a business can expect to see a three to four fold return from Text2Quit in the first year alone.”

Once users have quit smoking, Text2Quit will continue to send them messages, reminding them of personal reasons why they quit and how much money they’re now saving.

Lalida Thaweethai, M.P.H. ’10, first got involved with Text2Quit as a SPHHS graduate student assisting Dr. Abroms during the initial design phase.

“What makes Text2Quit stand out is how personal it is. You can enter in your specific triggers, and it will send you ways to avoid those triggers,” said Ms. Thaweethai, who after getting her master’s in public health communications and marketing went to work for Voxiva.

In the coming months, Dr. Abroms hopes to take Text2Quit one step further and target pregnant women who smoke. Building off of the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition’s Text4Baby program, she hopes to create a program with Voxiva called Quit4Baby.

“Approximately 13 percent of pregnant women in the U.S. smoke,” said Dr. Abroms. “If we can reduce the prevalence of smoking in pregnant women, even by one percent, the benefits to women, babies and society are enormous and immediate.”