Study leader and Director of the Institute for Health Promotion Research at UTHSCSA Amelie G. Ramirez speaks at the QUITXT Press Conference. Photo by Scott Ball.

Not every smoker that’s trying to quit has a support network or cheerleader to inspire them to kick their tobacco addiction. But chances are they do have a cellphone. Quitxt, a text message and online support service, hopes to provide a kind of “personal trainer” for young adults in South Texas looking to quit smoking cigarettes.

Anyone can sign up for the free service by texting “iquit” to the number 57682, follow the prompts, and receive messages from an automated platform that sends out bits of advice and links to videos, music, and other educational content. The four-month program, developed by the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA), helps users pick a quit date, handle cravings, and lead a more active life. The service will send out messages on a regular basis as well as respond to texts that the user sends. If they’re unable to quit in four months, then they can opt-in to the service again and opt-out at anytime.

The service itself is free, but if users do not have an unlimited texting cellphone plan, standard rates will apply.

“It’s not like nagging, but you receive some positive reinforcements,” Dr. Amelie Ramirez, study leader and director of the Institute for Health Promotion Research at UTHSCSA told the Rivard Report on Monday.

The service was officially launched on Tuesday at UTHSCSA. Quitxt was funded by a $1.4 million grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas to UTHSCSA and the technology was developed by engineers at University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA).

Quitxt will suggest things to get your mind off smoking like going for a quick walk or a run, breathing techniques to reduce stress, grabbing a carrot or pretzel to replace the physical habit, or a nicotine patch if they need something stronger, Ramirez said.

Electronic cigarettes (E-cigs) are not suggested as a replacement, said Dr. Carlos Jaén, chief of Family Practice at UTHSCSA, during a press event on Tuesday afternoon. “They reduce harm, but still harm … and they’re unregulated.”

Chair of the UTHSCSA Family Medicine Practice Dr. Carlos Ja?n speaks to a question from a guest. Photo by Scott Ball.
Chair of the UTHSCSA Family Medicine Practice Dr. Carlos Ja?n answers a question during the Quitxt launch event. Photo by Scott Ball.

While E-cigs, or “vaping,” can be an effective “bridge” for adults to quit smoking, it is still an addictive behavior that can lead young adults to smoking cigarettes, Dr. Jaén said.

The free service was modeled after SmokefreeTXT, created by the National Cancer Institute, which has services tailored for women, teens, military veterans, and spanish speakers. Quitxt, however, is tailored towards Latino youth by using cultural references and linguistic styles specific to South Texas. A Spanish version of the local service will be released in January 2016.

“It’s something people can do on their own, and get the enforcement they need when they want to light up,” Dr. Ramirez said. “To break this habit, you need a team.”

To drive that metaphor home, UTHSCSA has partnered with the San Antonio Scorpions soccer team to spread the word about the new service.

About 3,000 people die every year from tobacco-related illnesses every year in South Texas alone where more than 23% of Latinos smoke, according to UTHSCSA. ”

San Antonio Scorpions defender Julius James gives his remarks at the QUITXT press conference. Photo by Scott Ball.
San Antonio Scorpions defender Julius James gives his remarks at the QUITXT press conference. Photo by Scott Ball.

“Smoking is a big problem … I would say an epidemic,” said San Antonio Scorpions defender Julius James.

In sports and in life, people need a good defense against injury and sickness, James said. When he was injured during a recent game, his recovery time was twice as fast as it would have been had he been a smoker.

“(Quitxt) allows youth to have a good defense against smoking,” he said. “For kids that may not have support, this brings it right into their hands. … Let’s go kick tobacco’s butt.”

So will it work? Only if people actually use it, Dr. Ramirez said, so UTHSCSA is relying on media and its partnerships with the Scorpions, SA2020, and the Cancer Therapy and Research Center as well as local physicians to get the word – er, texts out.

During a 2014 study, researchers at the Milken Institute School of Public Health found that 11% of smokers were weened off cigarettes for at least six months after using similar text-message programs or apps compared to just 5% who used other methods like nicotine patches or counseling.

“Text messages seem to give smokers the constant reminders they need to stay focused on quitting, however, additional studies must be done to confirm this result and to look at how these programs work when coupled with other established anti-smoking therapies,” said Lorien C. Abroms, lead author of the study, quoted by Medical Daily.

quitxt slide

*Top image: Study leader and Director of the Institute for Health Promotion Research at UTHSCSA Amelie Ramirez speaks at the Quitxt launch event. Photo by Scott Ball. 

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Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@rivardreport.com