HHS launches SMS smoking cessation services

By: Chris Gullo | Sep 19, 2011        

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HHS SmokeFreeTXTThe U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced this week two new SMS smoking cessation programs, QuitNowTXT and SmokeFreeTXT, as part of their Text4Health initiative. The programs, a collaboration with the National Cancer Institute, are aimed separately at adults, and teens/young adults, respectively.

HHS formed the Text4Health Task Force in November 2010 to provide recommendations for HHS’ role in encouraging and developing health text messaging initiatives, and to report on the effectiveness of programs like Voxiva’s Text4Baby. The HHS has invested $5 million dollars since January to develop its mHealth smoking cessation resources. The backend technology for SmokeFreeTXT was built by Washington, D.C.’s Infield Health.

Voxiva’s own smoking cessation program, Text2Quit, launched in June. Earlier this month, it announced that the program would be offered exclusively through Alere Wellbeing.

“More than 70 percent of smokers want to quit, we are committed to providing evidence based information to smokers through emerging and innovative technology,” stated HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a press release.

Both of the cessation services offer tips, motivation, encouragement, and facts via SMS, based on information tailored to the user’s response and are an considered an extension of the SmokeFree.gov website.

HHS plans to make the QuitNowTXT program available globally, and has formed partnerships with the mHealth Alliance (hosted by the United Nations Foundation), World Medical Association, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Center for Global Health at the George Washington University and Johnson & Johnson.

“Mobile device texting initiatives, like this one, have the potential to be a powerful tool to support tobacco cessation globally. Text messaging is widely available, inexpensive, and allows for immediate delivery of cessation information,” stated HHS Chief Technology Officer Todd Park in a press release.

Read the full press release below.PRESS RELEASE — The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced this week new recommendations to support health text messaging and mobile health (mHealth) programs. The department has been actively exploring means to capitalize on the rapid proliferation of mobile phone technology and platforms, such as text messaging, to develop programs and/or partnerships with the overall aim of improving public health outcomes. The potential to provide citizens with an expansive level of access to health resources can help HHS achieve its goal of a healthier nation and help individuals and families get critical information that can improve — and even save — their lives.

In November 2010, HHS established the Text4Health Task Force as part of the agency’s commitment to promoting innovation at HHS. The task force, comprised of public health experts across HHS, was charged with providing recommendations for HHS’ role in encouraging and developing health text messaging initiatives which would deliver health information and resources to individuals via their mobile phones. The report recommends that: 1) HHS develop and host evidence-based health text message libraries that leverage HHS’ rich and scientifically-based information, 2) HHS develop further evidence on the effectiveness of health text messaging programs, and 3) HHS explore and develop partnerships to create, implement and disseminate health text messaging and mHealth programs. The full HHS Text4Health Task Force recommendations are available for public comment at http://www.hhs.gov/open .

Since January 2010, and consistent with these recommendations, HHS has invested $5 million dollars to develop its eHealth/mHealth smoking cessation resources aimed at increasing quitting attempts among teens, young adults and adults. Today, HHS is pleased to launch several new initiatives that have been guided by the HHS Text4Health Task Force.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) at the National Institutes of Health is launching the SmokeFreeTXT program, a mobile smoking cessation service specifically designed for teens and young adults across the United States. The service is an extension of the core smoking cessation website, www.smokefree.gov , which consistently achieves between 70,000 — 100,000 visits on a monthly basis. Teens and young adults in the U.S. can enroll in this program by visiting http://smokefree.gov/smokefreetxt/default.aspx .

“More than 70 percent of smokers want to quit, we are committed to providing evidence based information to smokers through emerging and innovative technology,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

NCI is also launching a library of smoking cessation messages which provide the foundation for an interactive text-based intervention for adult smokers called QuitNowTXT. The QuitNowTXT text messages offer tips, motivation, encouragement and facts based on information tailored to the user’s response and are available at http://smokefree.gov/hp.aspx . These mobile texting resources will be integrated into the department’s comprehensive tobacco control strategy to further address the burden of tobacco use across our nation.

HHS is also pursuing opportunities to forge a global public-private partnership to make the QuitNowTXT program available to other countries to reach adult tobacco users. Organizations committed to collaborating with HHS on this initiative include the mHealth Alliance (hosted by the United Nations Foundation), World Medical Association, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Center for Global Health at the George Washington University and Johnson & Johnson. This initiative aims to collaborate with interested countries to support mHealth/text-based demonstration projects using this new text messaging resource, which are now freely available on the mHealth Alliance’s HealthUnbound.org website. Drawing on the experience gained from these demonstration projects, the countries and partners will identify and disseminate best practices for tobacco cessation mHealth/text-based interventions.

“Mobile device texting initiatives, like this one, have the potential to be a powerful tool to support tobacco cessation globally. Text messaging is widely available, inexpensive, and allows for immediate delivery of cessation information,” said HHS Chief Technology Officer Todd Park.

The QuitNowTXT initiative is consistent with the UN’s Political Declaration of the High Level Meeting on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases, which calls upon member states to “encourage the development of multisectoral public policies that create equitable health promoting environments that empower individuals, families and communities to make healthy choices and lead healthy lives”.

A description of projects related to the HHS Text4Health Task Force recommendations can be found at: http://www.hhs.gov/open . The tobacco control message libraries, along with other libraries (smoking cessation for pregnant women, early childhood health, emergency response, etc.) will also be available to the public on HealthData.gov in the future.