MaRS client’s text messaging service helping hard-to-reach young adults quit smoking

Evolution Health launches integrated text and chat service in Quebec

Toronto, June 3, 2013 – A unique new text-messaging service developed by a MaRS client is helping smokers in Canada’s hardest-to-reach demographic kick the habit.

Toronto-based Evolution Health recently launched Short Messages Against Tobacco (SMAT) in Quebec, where 30 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds smoke – the highest percentage among Canada’s young adults.

Delivered in partnership with the Canadian Cancer society (Quebec Division), the service is the first to offer users real-time access to quit-smoking support over SMS and live chat, in either French or English.

Users can text a keyword to the service, such as “craving,” to receive instant support via text chats with a specially trained quit coach. They can also sign up to receive scheduled, personalized proactive messages based on motivational interviewing and coaching techniques.

“We have the stats to show that our service has a significant impact on quit rates in the young adult demographic,” says Trevor van Mierlo, CEO & Founder, Evolution Health Systems Inc. “We believe the mode of communication – reaching out to young smokers in a medium they’re comfortable with – is a big part of why this works so well.”

The Quebec program, which attracted more than 500 active users in its first six weeks, is the third phase of the project, originally developed in Ontario. In approaching Evolution Health, the Canadian Cancer Society’s Quebec Division wanted a solution that would help their hardest-to-reach group: young, male smokers.

“Results of phase 2 in particular were incredible – participants’ quit rates were at least as high as a physician intervention. Moreover, 51 per cent of participants were young men – for this type of intervention typically only 30-40 per cent of participants are male,” van Mierlo says.

Evolution Health developed the Text and Chat Integrated (TaChI for short) function to leverage how users were interacting with the technology.

“In phase 1, participants started texting back our algorithm – actually ‘talking’ to it – and showed interest in being able to text chat with an expert in emergency relapse situations,” van Mierlo says.

To create TaChI, Evolution sought assistance from the life sciences and healthcare practice at MaRS Discovery District, a Toronto innovation hub that provides small and medium-sized businesses with mentorship and advisory services to help them build and scale successful companies.

“It’s extremely rewarding to work with a company that has created a product that has been proven to effect behavioural change,” says Peter Adams, Senior Healthcare IT Advisor at MaRS. “We believe Evolution Health will have a significant and lasting impact on quit rates for smokers in hard-to-reach markets such as youth in Quebec.”

The project was funded in part by the Ontario VentureStart program:

“MaRS and funds like VentureStart are not only helping businesses innovate, but also play a key role in working with the private sector to solve problems that have a significant impact on public health and well-being,” van Mierlo says.

For more information, contact:

Melissa Hughes
Manager, Media & Community Relations
MaRS Discovery District
416.673.8100 ext. 2710