Text-messaging initiative to curb smoking in IDF sees successful month

81 soldiers were recruited, with 84% recommending it to their friends.

June 27, 2019 05:32
4 minute read.
israeli soldiers smoking cigarettes

Silhouetted Israeli soldiers from the Home Front Command Unit take a smoking break during an urban warfare drill inside a mock village at Tze'elim army base in Israel's Negev Desert June 11, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)


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A text-messaging initiative to curb smoking habits of IDF soldiers has already seen a 20.6% success rate in its first month, a study has found.

Researchers from Hadassah-University Medical Center, the Hebrew University, the IDF Medical Corps and the Israel Cancer Association found in a new study published on Wednesday that the smoking cessation program, called SMS-Stop, can help soldiers to detox.

“The objective of the study was to evaluate the feasibility of the program and to learn lessons for the improvement of the program and its implementation on a large scale,” the researchers said in a statement on the findings published in the scientific journal BMC Public Health. “Many young adults begin smoking in the military, with smoking rates higher among soldiers than in the general population. Smoking has a negative impact on the health and fitness of soldiers but plans to quit smoking in the military are a challenge.

“Among other health effects, smoking impairs performance among soldiers,” the study explained, adding that “smoking cessation programs in the military are challenging due to the unique settings and low access to smoking cessation resources.”

In addition, studies have shown that text-messaging smoking cessation programs are feasible and effective, but there is a lack of studies on soldiers.

Dr. Hagai Levine of the Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine at Hadassah and the Hebrew University, who was one of the initiators of the program, explained that “the results indicate the enormous potential of using digital tools to promote health, as a means of quitting smoking for IDF soldiers.

“We integrate the lessons from this program with the SMS-Stop program for IDF troops in cooperation with the IDF military health infrastructure,” explained Levine, who is also an adviser to the Israel Cancer Association. “A key challenge for us is to combine innovative measures to promote health with traditional health services, effectively and scientifically proven, and to make smoking services accessible in any way convenient for the patient.

“Tobacco companies use technological means to sell cigarettes to the next generation of young people, and it is our duty in the health system to initiate and integrate technological measures to prevent and eliminate smoking.”

According to the study, “the program is interactive and enabled participants to send messages to the system at any time. We recruited 81 soldiers who smoked, 76.5% of whom were male. Following the enrollment, participants filled out a baseline survey and were given a text messaging program for six months.”

Participants could then send predetermined keywords at any time based on their mood or how they were feeling, such as “nervous,” “slipped up,” “smoked,” “stop,” and “boredom,” to name a few. The soldiers then immediately received a response from a list of messages “that were constructed as a response to the specific keyword.”

Participants then filled out a follow-up survey after one month.

“Additionally, we retrieved and analyzed program usage data, including keywords sent and received, for the entire program period,” the researchers highlighted. “Based on the follow-up survey and the program usage data, we assessed the feasibility of the recruitment methods, participants’ engagement and satisfaction and technical usability of the program.”

According to the results, 20.6% reported that they had not smoked in the past week. A high percentage of the participants were engaged in the program, with 82.5% sending at least one valid keyword.

Almost all of the soldiers (96.8%) also found the program easy to use, and most of them (84.1%) recommended it to their friends.

“Self-belief in the ability to quit smoking at the start of the program predicted remaining in the program: 50% of those who believed in themselves remained in the program, compared with only 4.8% of those who did not believe in themselves,” the researchers wrote. “The study proves, for the first time, that a smoking-cessation program based on messages to a mobile phone is applicable to military service conditions.”

The head of the army’s health branch, Lt.-Col. Dr. Eva Abramovitch, added that “the cessation of smoking by IDF soldiers, together with the reduction of exposure to environmental smoke, is one of the main goals of the IDF’s health sector. The SMS-Stop program is one of the additional solutions offered to IDF staff to assist them in the process of quitting smoking, along with more classic solutions, such as group rehab workshops or personal rehab treatment by medical staff with integration. We offer the soldiers an additional solution that can be a treatment program in itself or as a supplement to other treatment possibilities in order to increase their effectiveness.”

Abramovitch highlighted that the inclusion of this program can contribute further “to the effort to combat smoking in the IDF and continue to advance the vision ‘to free the IDF from smoking.’”

The program is funded by the Israel Cancer Association and the Health Ministry.

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