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TXT Messages Help Vets Quit with SmokefreeVET

Screenshot of sample iPhone text message from SmokefreeVETIf you've ever tried to quit smoking, you know it is one of the hardest goals to accomplish. Studies show that a good support system is one of the keys to quitting. A new mobile text-messaging service from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can help by delivering smoking cessation support directly to your mobile phone.

Known as SmokefreeVET, the program sends participating Veterans text messages of encouragement, advice and tips to help you quit and stay quit. You will receive between one and five messages per day for up to eight weeks. And for those times when you need even more support, SmokefreeVET can help. Just text a keyword and the service will send you extra messages on-demand at any time.

"Support is incredibly important for anyone trying to quit smoking," said Dana Christofferson, PhD, Presidential Management Fellow, Tobacco & Health: Policy and Programs, Veterans Health Administration.

"SmokefreeVET is like the bird on your shoulder saying, 'You can do this. Great job!'"

VA developed the SmokefreeVET program in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute (NCI), which offers a similar texting program for quitting smoking. Since launching their program in 2011, NCI has helped more than 14,000 subscribers.

With its Veteran-specific messages, SmokefreeVET aims to achieve similar results and reach as many Veterans as NCI's program. VA clinicians reviewed and approved all of the messages for the program. Messages were also reviewed with input from Veterans who have quit or hope to quit smoking.

Support When You Need It

Screenshot of keywords and text message responses from SmokefreeVETOnce you sign-up, SmokefreeVET begins sending daily texts in the two weeks leading up to your quit date and for six weeks thereafter. Each message is carefully timed and selected to support your quitting progress. For example:

SmokefreeVET: You are getting closer to the big day. It may help to cut back on the number of cigarettes you smoke. Give it a try.

SmokefreeVET: Today is your quit day. The big day is here-you can do this! You are stronger than you think so stay positive. Are you ready? Reply: READY or NOT

And when you need extra support, text "Urge", "Smoked" or "Stress" to 47848 and SmokefreeVET responds:

SmokefreeVET: Don't let one slip be an excuse to give up. Try again. Figure out what triggered your slip and find ways to avoid it next time.

"All of the messages are timed according to your quit date," said Christofferson. "There are more messages per day on quit day and during the first one or two weeks because that's when [smokers] need the most support and are likely to relapse."

When the six weeks are done, SmokefreeVET follows up with text questions at one, three and six months to assess how you are doing. You can stop the message program at any time by texting "STOP."

All the information you provide to SmokefreeVET is confidential. It is not shared with your health care team, nor is it entered into your electronic health record.

Plan your quitting success

Different people need different resources to stop smoking. SmokefreeVET gives you another option. My HealtheVet can also help. Use My Goals under "Track Health" to plan your quit strategy and track your progress (registration is required - and it's free).

VA also offers other resources to help you quit smoking. You have the best chance at success when you combine SmokefreeVET with smoking cessation medications and behavioral counseling from your health care provider. Talk to your VA health care team and ask about medications that can help curb your smoking urges.

It may take several attempts to quit. Keep trying. Your health is worth it.

More smoking cessation resources:

Smoking and Tobacco Use Cessation - A step-by-step process for Veterans to use.

Stay Quit Coach mobile app - From the VA National Center for PTSD

Tobacco and Health resources - A large variety of resources shared by the VA Office of Public Health


Updated/Reviewed: August 16, 2013