Background: Alcohol and tobacco use are major causes of the disease burden in most countries of the world. Mobile phone text messaging is very popular among adolescents and young adults and has the potential to deliver individualized information to large population groups at low costs.
Objective: To provide a narrative review on studies testing the appropriateness and effectiveness of text messaging-based programs to reduce alcohol and tobacco use in young people.
Results: Two published studies on text message-based programs for the reduction of problem drinking and two studies on programs for enhancing smoking cessation were identified. A US-American pilot experimental study tested the feasibility and initial efficacy of a text messaging-based assessment and brief intervention among young adults identified during their emergency department visit with hazardous drinking. It demonstrated the feasibility of the text messaging-based program to collect drinking data in young adults after emergency department discharge. A Swiss pre–post study tested the appropriateness and initial effectiveness of a combined, individually tailored web- and text messaging (SMS)-based program to reduce problem drinking in vocational school students. It provided evidence for the appropriateness of the intervention and initial evidence for its efficacy to reduce problem drinking. One of the two studies addressing smoking cessation was a US-American pilot randomized controlled trial. Participants were recruited via online advertisements and received text messages tailored according to their quitting stage. The intervention significantly affected self-reported quitting rates at 4 weeks but not at 3 months after the quit date. Within a cluster-randomized controlled trial conducted in Switzerland, smoking students were proactively recruited within vocational school classes and received text messages tailored to demographic and smoking-related variables. The program was accepted very well by the target group. It did not affect smoking abstinence rates at 6-months follow-up but resulted in significant lower cigarette consumption.
Conclusion: First results on the appropriateness and short-term efficacy of text message-based interventions to reduce tobacco and alcohol use in young people are promising; however, further adequately powered trials are needed to confirm these initial results and to test the longer-term efficacy of these programs.