Anyone who has tried to quit smoking knows how difficult it is. Even the most highly motivated people can fall prey to the craving for a cigarette and light up.

Help may be available in the form of a text message. Researchers at George Washington University suggest that a text messaging program appears to help smokers quit and stay smoke free.

Interactive text messages give smokers advice about how to quit smoking. Participants can ask for more help or reset their quit date if they are not ready to quit.

Text messages give healthcare professionals another tool to help smokers who are trying to quit, and they appear to be helpful, Lorien Abroms, lead author of the study told TheDoctor.

Few previous studies have looked at use in the U.S. of text messaging to help those trying to quit smoking. Those that did were very small, lacked a control group, and did not biochemically verify smoking status,

“Text messages seem to give smokers the constant reminders they need to stay focused on quitting,” said Abroms, an associate professor of prevention and community health at Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington.

Abroms and her colleagues recruited 503 people who were searching online for information about how to quit smoking. Two hundred forty-one joined Text2Quit and 262 were in the control group, which received self-help information about quitting.

During the two-year study period, participants filled out surveys about their smoking status when they enrolled, and at one, three, and six months after they enrolled. At the six-month mark, the researchers checked to see if people had stopped smoking by testing participants’ saliva for evidence of cotinine, a nicotine byproduct.

The investigators found that twice as many — 11.1 percent of those in the Text2Quit group versus 5 percent in the control group — had stayed smoke free at six months.

The interactive text messages give smokers advice about how to quit smoking. Participants can ask for more help or reset their quit date if they are not ready to quit. Smokers who are struggling with a nicotine craving can text to ask for a tip or a game to distract them until the urge goes away.

There are two ways to sign up for Text2Quit. One is via and the other way is by calling 1-800-Quit-Now. Callers to the 800 number will put people in touch with a state quit line where they can speak with a phone counselor about how to quit smoking. The counselor will also ask callers if they want text messaging for smoking cessation, and if they say yes, the counselor will enroll them in the program.

Follow-up studies are needed to see if Text2Quit helps because of the extra, personalized support it offers or if it is effective even without additional phone counseling.

In general, people are more likely to succeed with more contact when they are trying to quit smoking, said Abroms. They also do better if they combine multiple methods for quitting, such as phone counseling and a nicotine patch. When it comes to quitting smoking, you probably can't have too much support.

The current study was published online recently in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.