The prevalence of cigarette smoking among US veterans is estimated at approximately 40% to 45%, and is more prevalent among veterans and service members than civilians. It is also known that individuals with mental illness are approximately twice as likely to smoke cigarettes compared with persons who do not have a mental disorder.

Investigators affiliated with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Duke University Medical Center recently reported that a text messaging smoking cessation program (SmokefreeVET) is effective at supporting short-term abstinence. Their findings were published in Addictive Behaviors journal.

Researchers analyzed smoking behavior data collected from 1 470 veterans who enrolled in the SmokefreeVET tobacco cessation program between 2013 and 2014. “The intervention is based on a pre-programmed library of messages that are delivered daily and scheduled according to quit date,” they noted in the publication.

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According to the report, almost 85% of the sample reported smoking cigarettes every day, and almost 30% reported smoking more than one pack of cigarettes per day. On average, participants received an average of 72.53 (SD=43.73) text messages after their quit date. About 75% of enrolled participants were male, and 48% reported using smoking cessation medication. Also, women were more likely to use the text messaging system compared with men.

Group differences were analyzed by self-reported smoking status (abstinent vs. smoking). After being enrolled in the program, and after receiving daily texts for 5 weeks, 13% (n=193) of the participants reported abstinence. Importantly, data indicate that individuals who were highly engaged with SmokefreeVET were significantly more likely to be abstinent at weeks 3, 4, and 5 compared with users who displayed lower levels of engagement (ie, 60% of users who were classified as high engagers reported abstinence at 5 weeks post quit date). Thus, according to the findings, active engagement with a texting program renders an individual significantly more likely to quit and is a key factor in supporting short-term abstinence.

Although the short duration of the program is one of the limitations, “These encouraging findings indicate that the SmokefreeVET text messaging program successfully supports abstinence among a real world group of highly engaged users,” researchers concluded.

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Christofferson DE, Hertzberg JS, Beckham JC, et al. Engagement and abstinence among users of a smoking cessation text message program for veterans. Addict Behav. 2016;62:47-53.