Rhode Island offers mobile aids to quit smoking

By Brian Dolan
07:20 am

Photo by eschipulLike many state entities, the Rhode Island Department of Health is strapped for cash in these tough economic times. But, since the effects of cigarette smoking on the public's health are not letting up, the department is looking for ways stretch less dollars more effectively through mobile health initiatives.

The budget crunches around the state are making traditional marketing too expensive, but the RI Department of Health has found that inexpensive targeted text messages are helping smokers quit. Since 85 percent of Americans own cell phones, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, there is a potentially huge audience for text based health marketing. The state is spending only $18,000 on its entire text-based initiative: that's half the price of a four week 30 second ad on network television.

The health initiative is also using QR codes on outside ads like bus stops where smokers might be bored enough to explore the connected smoking cessation websites. The QuitNowRI.com site developed by the RI Department of Health offers quit-smoking resources.

While the offering is relatively inexpensive, the results so far have been meager. About 8.2 percent of the website's visitors have accessed the site from their mobile phone. The department does not have a way to track whether the QR codes were used by those mobile phone-based visitors but the 8.2 percentage only amounts to about 80 people. Even so, the effort has cost the state $25 to embed the QR codes. Additionally only about 22 people have signed up for the text messages.

Studies from researchers at the University of Oregon (UO) and UCLA have shown that text messaging (SMS) is an effective and low-cost way to measure and intervene in urges people have during smoking cessation programs. Studies using the same group of 27 subjects, who were heavy smokers recruited from the American Lung Association’s Freedom From Smoking program in Los Angeles tested if text messaging was "a user-friendly and low-cost option for ecologically measuring real-time health behaviors.” The participants received eight text messages per day for three weeks that requested they document their ongoing cravings, mood and cigarette use. Text messaging was at least as effective as more expensive and harder-to-use handheld data collection devices, which can cost more than $300 each.

For more, read the article in the Providence Journal.