A ban on smoking in England may be good for more than just public health. It may be good for the phone company. A new survey by Sheffield Hallam University and, not surprisingly, Virgin Mobile says smokers will turn to texting to talk about it and even improve their social lives in the process.

Those struggling not to light up during the first days of the smoking ban are expected to turn to their mobile to help them cope. The research found that most people see their phone as being as personal as a diary, and increasingly use them as an emotional support, helping them to express their feelings, gossip with friends and to simply let off steam. So those who are unable to calm their nerves with a cigarette are likely to turn to the comfort of their mobile phones and texting as their next favoured coping mechanism.

And smokers who use their free hands to text more could also find that it adds a boost to their love lives. More than half of the 1050 respondents said that texting helped them to say things that they would be unable to express face to face. This was reflected in the finding that those who use text more tend to arrange more dates - with more than half of those surveyed having arranged romantic encounters by text message.

Many also said that texting allowed them keep in touch with friends with whom they may otherwise lose contact.

Simon Dornan of Virgin Mobile said, “This new research is really pleasing, it seems like a genuine cultural shift for the better. Whereas bored, distracted people used to reach to their pockets for a pack of cigarettes, they now do so looking for their phone instead. The fact that this can improve people’s social lives to boot is fantastic. Even though texting is obviously heavily involved in most people’s lives today, it’s surprising to see how texting more actually has real benefits to your romantic and personal life as well.”

Professor Simeon Yates, from Sheffield Hallam University, who conducted the study, said: “Our research shows that people tend to hold, fiddle with or put on display their mobile phones when in social contexts like pubs and cafés. If they will soon be unable to smoke in these places then it seems reasonable to assume that smokers will turn to their mobile phone. Sixty per cent of heavy mobile users we surveyed see their phone as something as very personal, it’s a ‘social’ comfort blanket of sorts, so as people are unable to smoke in public places they are likely to use their mobiles more. Our study suggests that people will communicate with friends, partners and families more. This is because heavy users are more likely to keep in contact with a wide circle of friends, develop relationships and reveal their true feelings about people via their mobiles.

Of the 1050 people surveyed:

- 60 per cent say they see their phone as being as personal to them as a diary
- 37 per cent say they first revealed true feelings to others via a text message
- 60 per cent say they have sent drunken ‘I luv Us’
- 43 per cent say that they used texts to help them develop relationships more easily
- 53 per cent say they have used texts to arrange dates

Source: Sheffield Hallam University and Virgin Mobile