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Rhode Island Department of Health Uses Text Messages to Help Teen Smokers Quit

The Rhode Island Department of Health (HEALTH) Tobacco Control Program launched a new text messaging campaign today aimed at helping teen tobacco users ages 18 and under kick the habit. Text To Be An EX (T2BX) is a one-of-a-kind, two-way, customized text message cessation support and education intervention for teens.

"Rhode Island has the second lowest teen smoking rate," said Director of Health, Michael Fine M.D. "In order to get that number to zero, we need to focus on the teens who need it most and help them quit in ways that work for them. T2BX is exactly that. "

Here's how it works: A teen first texts 'START' to the number 88206 to enroll. This begins a conversational automated system to identify the teens' smoking habits. The subscriber's answers to questions like "What time of day do you smoke?" and "What type of tobacco do you use?" help the system deliver relatable, tailored messages. Having a craving? Text 'DISTRACT' and you will immediately be sent a link to a humorous YouTube video or online meme. A real professional tobacco treatment specialist monitors the system throughout the day, messaging subscribers personally when extra assistance is needed. Teens do not need parental permission to participate as only information and tips are given, and teens remain anonymous.

The innovative resource represents two years of research and development focused on the types of teen social identity groups that are most at risk for tobacco use in Rhode Island. The results led HEALTH to design a media campaign to promote T2BX that speaks to two social groups specifically – teens who identify with hip-hop culture or those who identify with alternative social culture. T2BX uses the Trans-theoretical Model and Behavioral Activation to move subscribers through the process of quitting and suggest productive alternatives.

"Teen tobacco users tell us that they want to quit; that they feel enslaved by tobacco addiction," says Erin Boles Welsh, Tobacco Control Program Manager at HEALTH. "T2BX was developed with feedback from these teens to ensure that the campaign and texts will engage them and keep them motivated to achieve their goal."

Advertisements promoting T2BX will air in places teens frequent, such as malls, movie theaters, and online through websites like Pandora, and Facebook. HEALTH has also partnered with local businesses, such as CVS Health and Fete nightclub, the United Way and other youth-based organizations, and schools throughout the state to help host promotional events and reach teens who are thinking about quitting.

The campaign will be rigorously evaluated to determine its success, and whether it can be replicated by other states.


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