It’s a crazy thing about teenagers who smoke. Unlike adults, who may feel guilty and weak when they light up, many teens are too young-and-dumb to feel that way—in fact, smoking makes them feel cool and grown up.
So even when a teen smoker gets a notion to quit, it can be very hard to do. What’s even more horrifying is a new report from the US Surgeon General’s office that shows that one in five American teens smokes. What’s worse, the report also shows that their quitting rate has declined in the past few decades—80% continue to smoke as adults.
The promising news is that there’s a new, free service that can help teens quit cold turkey: SmokefreeTXT, an interactive text-messaging program developed by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the National Institutes of Health and the US Department of Health and Human Services.
I spoke with Erik Augustson, PhD, MPH, a behavioral scientist with NCI’s Tobacco Control Research Branch, who studies smoking cessation and helped develop this unique service for teens.
Why try to reach teens through texting? About 75% of American teens have cell phones, and most of them have text-messaging plans, Dr. Augustson said. “It’s the most common way they communicate.”
SmokefreeTXT is available on all cell phones and through all carriers. There’s no charge—the only potential cost is whatever the teen’s carrier charges per text message, and most teens have unlimited texting plans.
When your child or grandchild signs up, he’ll receive…
Instead of using adult language, the service tries to connect with teens, specifically, by using what Dr. Augustson calls “teen speak.” For example, users can describe their mood as “cool,” “eh,” or “sucky.”
There are no stats yet on how effective this particular texting program is, since it’s new, but I look forward to seeing whether it works. While the government has sent out health tips via text in the past, it’s never before offered an interactive component that allows users to text back. Because the program allows teens to engage with it, it’s more than just a reminder service—it’s like having a robotic counselor who is there for you 24/7.
If you’d like your child or grandchild to sign up for the automated service, encourage him or her to visit the Web site www.Teen.SmokeFree.gov or text the word “quit” to IQUIT (47848).
Source: Erik Augustson, PhD, MPH, a behavioral scientist with the National Cancer Institute’s Tobacco Control Research Branch, Rockville, Maryland.