Smokers Active in Online Support Groups Show Higher Quitting Rates

In today’s increasingly connected world, people who struggle with addictions now have the option of joining online support groups to exchange advice and encouragement with others who are also trying to quit.

Now, a new study finds that tobacco smokers who actively participate in a smoking-cessation support group are much more likely to kick the habit compared to passive users of the site, according to new research from the University of Iowa and the Truth Initiative, a nonprofit anti-tobacco organization.

“How central you become in the online social network after the first week is a good indicator of whether you will quit smoking,” said study co-author Dr. Kang Zhao, assistant professor of management sciences in the UI Tippie College of Business.

“This is the first study to look at smokers’ behaviors in an online community over time and to report a prospective relationship between social network involvement and quitting smoking.”

For the study, researchers analyzed the smoking habits of more than 2,600 tobacco users who participated in BecomeAnEX.org, Truth Initiative’s online smoking cessation community designed in collaboration with the Mayo Clinic.

They discovered that 21 percent of those classified as active users after their first week in the community reported that they quit smoking three months later. Those who were less active in the community were less likely to quit.

This particular online group allows members to share information and support through blogs, forums, and messages. Although the site is focused on quitting smoking, users can post on any topic. With more than 800,000 registered users, the site hosts a large, active community of current and former tobacco users supporting each other.

A key finding was that increasing integration into the social network was a significant predictor of subsequent abstinence of smoking.  In fact, three months after joining the social network, users who stayed involved on the site were more likely to have quit smoking when researchers contacted them to assess their smoking status.

After three months, 21 percent of active users, or those who actively contributed content in the community, quit smoking; 11 percent of passive users, those who only read others’ posts, quit smoking; and only eight percent of study participants that never visited quit smoking.

While the study did not specifically investigate why greater community involvement has such a positive effect on smoking cessation, the researchers speculate it may be because of the powerful influence of camaraderie.

“Spending time with others who are actively engaged in quitting smoking in a place where being a nonsmoker is supported and encouraged gives smokers the practical advice and support they need to stay with a difficult behavior change,” said lead author Dr. Amanda Graham, senior vice president of Innovations at Truth Initiative.

“We know that quitting tobacco can be extremely difficult. These results demonstrate what we hear from tobacco users, which is that online social connections and relationships can make a real difference.”

The study was funded by the National Cancer Institute.

Source: University of Iowa