How social media can help you break the habit

quitsmokingOver the last few years there have been numerous studies of the role social media can play in helping us to adopt healthier behaviors.

A few years ago, for instance, I wrote about an exploration of peer constructed smoking cessation messages versus messaging produced by professionals.

The study focused specifically on tapping into the crowd for the construction of anti-smoking messages to share with smokers in their fight against the addiction.  These crowdsourced messages were then compared against specially crafted messages from a team of experts on the subject.  This team consisted of physicians, nurses and so on, all of whom were using best practice guidelines when crafting their messages.

The crowd of nearly 40 smokers produced just under 3,000 messages, ranging from ones about attitudes and expectations, improvements in quality of life, how to seek help and various behavioral strategies.  The delivery of these messages was structured according to the state of the recipient.  So for instance, if the recipient was not really looking to quit, the messages focused more on expectations and how quitting might change life quality.  If the recipient was ready to quit however, the messages were focused more on behavioral strategies for quitting.

When the success rate of the messages were analyzed, it emerged that the crowdsourced messages were more likely to generate results than those crafted by an expert, with the messages most aligned to the social and real-life aspects of smoking delivering the best results.

The role of social media in smoking cessation

A second study, this time from researchers at the University of Waterloo, came to similarly positive findings.  It found that young people who utilized social media to help them quit smoking were roughly twice as successful as those who used more traditional methods.

The study compared a range of interventions, including the social media based Break It Off with more traditional methods such as the Smokers’ Helpline.

Participants were tracked for three months, after which it emerged that 32 percent of those who used Break It Off had managed to quit smoking, compared to just 14 percent who used the helpline.

After three months in the program, 32 per cent of smokers who used Break It Off apps and web tools had quit smoking, compared to 14 per cent of their peers who used the telephone-based support.

“These finding suggest that the creators of public health campaigns need to evaluate how they use social media channels and social networks to improve health, especially with regards to younger demographics,” the authors say.

Smoking cessation is a particular problem in Canada as young people have both high rates of smoking and low takeup of traditional cessation services.  The authors believe that social media based offerings may provide a better approach.

“Traditional cessation services can have limited reach and this reduced visibility lessens their impact in a digital era,” they say. “Because they are such heavy users of social media, these platforms provide an alternative and successful way of reaching smokers who are less likely to relate to other cessation programs.”

Break It Off consists of an interactive website and social media.  It compares quitting smoking with the end of a relationship, providing users with a website and app to help guide them through the cessation process.


2 thoughts on “How social media can help you break the habit

  1. This is very interesting. If social media can play an important role in enabling young people to quit smoking then perhaps it could also be used to help prevent young people from starting in the first place. As a smoking cessation hypnotherapist, I have seen an increase in the number of 18 – 25 year olds wanting to stop smoking, the majority of whom admit that the reason they started was through curiosity and being an impressionable teenager. We all know the power of conformity so there surely is the potential for social media to help reduce the numbers of teenagers who start smoking. It's rare for people to start smoking after the age of 30.

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