Texting to help teens quit smoking

    Teenagers who want to quit smoking in 2012 have a new tool at their disposal: personal messages of encouragement and advice sent straight to their phones, from the federal government.

    The new, free text-messaging service is being offered by the National Institutes of Health, and will provide 24/7, interactive support and tips to teens trying to kick the habit.

    Dr. Yvonne Hunt, program director in tobacco control research at the National Institutes of Health, said many teens want to quit, but few take advantage of programs to help them.

    “In the words of one of our focus group teens, texting is my life,” Hunt said. “So what better way to connect teens who want to quit with proven tools and strategies that really make sense in the context of their everyday lives?”

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    Teens can sign up for the program, called SmokefreeTXT, online or via text message, and can get messages for up to six weeks following their quit date.

    Anna Tobia, a clinical psychologist at Jefferson University and director of hospital’s smoking cessation program, said teens are less likely than adults to enroll in more formal smoking cessation programs because they may have trouble getting to appointments or may not want to tell their parents they smoke. More private outreach efforts may make a difference.

    “Any support that can be given to teens as they try and combat smoking is very important,” Tobia said.

    She added that it is especially tough for teens to quit because their brains have not fully developed.

    “It makes it really difficult for them to look at gratification in the future, or think about consequences down the road, so anything that can remind them of that in the present day can be really helpful,” Tobia said.

    The National Cancer Institute, the agency in the NIH responsible for the texting program, will launch a smart-phone application that will serve as an interactive quit guide for teens later this month.



    Anna Tobia’s top five tips for kicking the habit

    1) Gradually decrease the amount of nicotine, not the number of cigarettes

    If you cut down on your daily quota of cigarettes, you cherish each one more and more. Instead, reduce the amount of nicotine by switching to light and then ultra-light versions of your preferred brand. You’ll enjoy each cigarette a little less while gradually weaning yourself off nicotine.

    2) Use nicotine replacement therapy liberally

    Make good use of the patches, gums and lozenges on the market.  “You should be chewing a piece of that gum every hour,” Tobia said. She advises her patients to use patches even before they stop smoking.

    3) Break the habits that go along with smoking

    Before you quit, try to break the connection between smoking and other activities, like driving, talking on the phone or drinking a cup of coffee. If you always smoke with your morning cup of joe, try smoking before or after instead. Then when you finally kick the habit, coffee will be less likely to trigger a craving.

    4) Find other ways to give yourself a boost

    “It’s really important to find other ways to give yourself pleasure,” Tobia said.  Smokers are emotionally dependent on their habit, so it is important to replace cigarettes with something else that makes you feel good. Get your car detailed or use the money you would spend on cigarettes to buy a nice lunch or flowers.

    5) Enlist social support

    “Tell your family, tell your friends that you’re quitting smoking,” Tobia says. Many people avoid telling loved ones for fear they will fail, but you will need the support. “You don’t want them to say, “You’re so cranky, go have a cigarette,’” Tobia said. “That’s like the worst thing you can say” to someone trying to quit, she said.

    — Anna Tobia is director of JeffQuit, the smoking cessation program at Jefferson University Hospitals

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