Texting for health: updated Cochrane review finds long-term effectiveness of mobile phone interventions to help people stop smoking

Key message: This review update has been able to show that interventions delivered via mobile phones can help people give up smoking and that these benefits are sustained at least six months later.

There is an increasing amount of interest in the medical press and beyond in ‘telehealth’, the use of technologies such as mobile phones and the internet to help in the prevention or management of a range of health conditions, and rightly, for it offers a potentially cost-saving means to reach large numbers of people.

Back in the summer, a new Cochrane review was published evaluating the use of mobile phone messaging reminders for attendance at healthcare appointments. The review team, from the Cochrane Consumers and Communication Group, found the evidence too limited for clear conclusions to be drawn, although there were indications that text message reminders may be a promising method of boosting appointment attendance. Now, a review from the Cochrane Tobacco Addiction Group, which had previously shown that mobile phone-based interventions for smoking cessation can be effective in the short-term, has been updated with three new studies. This brings the total to five studies with over 9000 people, with follow-up for at least six months. Interventions were mostly text messages offering motivation and advice on stopping smoking, with an interactive element enabling smokers to ask for additional messages when needed. 

What did they find?

  • Overall, mobile phone interventions were found to increase quit rates compared to control programmes (control groups received ‘usual care’, mostly fortnightly text or video messages)
  • One very large, well-conducted trial, which used biochemical testing to confirm people’s self-reported smoking abstinence, found a mobile phone intervention to be effective, in a developed country with good tobacco control policy

 How good was the evidence?

All five of the included studies were judged to be at low risk of bias. The studies were similar in their design, interventions and outcome measures. In all trials, where follow-up data were missing, those people were assumed to be still smoking.

The authors identified seven more ongoing trials which are likely to be eligible for inclusion in later updates of this review and should provide long-term results. They found no published or ongoing trials of the use of smartphone applications for smoking cessation.


Whittaker R, McRobbie H, Bullen C, Borland R, Rodgers A, Gu Y. Mobile phone-based interventions for smoking cessation. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 11. Art. No.: CD006611. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD006611.pub3. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD006611.pub3/full

Car J, Gurol-Urganci I, de Jongh T, Vodopivec-Jamsek V, Atun R. Mobile phone messaging reminders for attendance at healthcare appointments. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 7. Art. No.: CD007458. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD007458.pub2. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD006611.pub3/full

Cochrane summary http://summaries.cochrane.org/CD007458/mobile-phone-messaging-reminders-for-attendance-at-healthcare-appointments

The Lifestyle Elf blog: Text messaging reminders for healthcare appointments: review finds limited evidence in favour: http://www.thelifestyleelf.net/text-messaging-reminders-for-healthcare-appointments-review-finds-limited-evidence-in-favour/

1 thought on “Texting for health: updated Cochrane review finds long-term effectiveness of mobile phone interventions to help people stop smoking

  1. Thank you for this very interesting blog. As someone working in public health it is great to hear of new and innovative methods of improving smoking cessation that have some evidence. In an increasingly technological world this is something the profession needs to utilise to maximal effect, and gaining an understanding of the interventions that do have evidence is vital, thank you!

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