HHS debuts smoking cessation mobile texting apps

Betting that a timely text message can help stop a smoker from lighting up, the Health and Human Services Department has launched two new free text messaging programs providing tips and encouragement to teen and adult smokers to help them stop the habit.

The National Cancer Institute is distributing SmokeFreeTXT, which is a mobile smoking cessation service for teens and young adults, and QuitNowTxt for adults. Both services are available for free at Smokefree.gov.

The anti-smoking text programs are among HHS’ recent group of initiatives for expanding mobile text health applications for the public, Chief Technology Officer Todd Park wrote in a Sept. 19 blog entry on the HHS Open Government website.

HHS also has designated a group of its executives as a “community of practice” for developing HHS mobile health, or “mHealth” applications, and adopted several other recommendations of an HHS Text4Health Task Force.

“Mobile phones and other portable health information technologies offer unprecedented opportunities to improve the health of the U.S. population and reach traditionally underserved subgroups (e.g., rural communities, low-income groups, and ethnic minority populations),” the task force wrote in its report.

As of December 2010, there were more than 302 million wireless subscribers in the U.S. and 5 billion mobile cell subscriptions globally; about 85 percent of adults and 75 percent of teens currently own mobile phones, the report said.

The task force recommended that HHS develop “libraries” of evidence-based texts on health that could be distributed for free to application developers and the public. The smoking cessation QuitNowTxt is the first library of texts to be distributed.

The SmokeFreeTXT program is a month-long free, confidential program that automatically delivers free smoking cessation text messages to teens and young adults who register for it. The messages offer information, tips and encouragement, and more messages can be activated by responding to a message. It is intended for users who have unlimited text messaging capabilities.

Both programs are building upon the success of the national Text4Baby program, which offers free health information and updates to expectant and new mothers via mobile phone text messages.

HHS joined a partnership in 2010 with the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition sponsoring the Text4Baby program, which is aiming to enroll 1 million women by 2012. It currently enrolls about 240,000 women.


 

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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