TTYL Craving: Texting Helps Smokers Kick Butts, Healthcare Costs

Thursday, April 25th, 2013
This post was written by Cheryl Miller

Remember the Marlboro Man, who filled black and white TV screens and magazine pages back in the day, always holding a cigarette in his calloused hands?

Initially designed to counter public opinion that filtered cigarettes were for women, he appeared to be the quintessential macho man, unafraid of anything, whether it was errant horses, lawless poachers, or even the front lines of war.

Not surprisingly, the Malboro Man got a makeover of sorts over the years; revealing that he was afraid of something, and that something was chemotherapy. It was one of California’s arsenal of ads they’ve been pummeling the public with for the last few decades. And they’re working; in a recent news story published here, the University of California SF reported that the state’s tobacco reform campaign, while costing California $2.4 billion since 1998, reduced healthcare costs by $134 billion, and reduced the sales of cigarette packs by 6.8 billion, amounting to a loss of $28.5 billion in sales to cigarette companies.

Well, a new ad might appear on the sun-drenched horizon soon, featuring the older, wiser Marlboro Man holding a smart phone instead of a lasso, and reading one of many specially timed texts to help him quit smoking.

Agile Health recently announced Kick Buts 2.0, a major upgrade to their Kick Buts high touch, low cost smoking cessation program. Kick Buts delivers personalized text messages to smokers who need advice, support and encouragement as they try to quit smoking. It sends messages at scheduled intervals over a six-month period to help them develop the knowledge, motivation and behavioral skills necessary to drive sustained behavior change.

It also responds immediately to key words from participants requesting help to overcome cravings, slip-ups or relapse. So, someone can text “Craving” and they will receive a pep talk on how to ride the craving out.

It seems like a perfect way to hook the smokers who are already hooked on their smart phones — in particular, kids who’ve found their way to a cigarette despite the worldwide glut of anti-smoking campaigns. According to our recent survey on mHealth, smart phone apps are the most widely used technology tool today, with text messaging coming in a close second.

“These days I prescribe a lot more apps than medications,” says Dr. Eric Topol, who was profiled on Rock Center with Brian Williams recently, and is author of The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care. He points to the smartphone as a leading breakout tool, with the eventual ability to detect cancer cells circulating in the blood or warn patients of an imminent heart attack or monitor glucose levels through a sensor implanted in the body which, when activated, sends a signal to the patient’s smart phone.

“A ninety-year-old can leave the hospital and be monitored remotely like he’s still in the ER,” says Dr. Topol, and it is this kind of remote technology that could save the healthcare industry millions in prescription drugs and unnecessary tests.

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