Social Networking Sites May Help Smokers Kick Habit
Users built strong connections to others, felt more empowered to quit, study found
Phua concluded that web users had developed a tangible sense of belonging to a committed group, and -- despite being virtual -- such interactions were deemed to be meaningful as a motivating force to quit.
In turn, strong and trusting relationships were fostered, leading to the exchange of practical information and advice regarding the struggle surrounding quitting.
"Smoking is an addictive behavior and a chronic health problem," Phua said. "And so I think many medical professionals don't approach it as an urgent situation. Which means a lot of people find it difficult and expensive to get help from the medical community, particularly those in rural areas. But online sites are easy to access, cheap and a direct connection to a larger and credible community that offers strong social support for those wanting to quit."
One health expert agreed that social networking for help in quitting is "definitely useful."
"Within the health care system we know that social support helps, but it's hard for physicians to think about how to orchestrate that," said Dr. Scott Sherman, co-chief of the section on tobacco, alcohol and drug use at the NYU School of Medicine's department of population health. "But social media seems like a perfect way to do that, and it gets people the help they need from outside the health care system in a very easy way."
The bottom line: "If this motivates people to make more quit attempts and motivates them to stay quit, that's a good thing," said Sherman, also a senior investigator with the VA NY Harbor Healthcare System in New York City.
Cliff Lampe, an associate professor of information with the School of Information at the University of Michigan, concurred that some smokers benefit from cessation support beyond the health care system.
"Many smokers don't see smoking cessation as a medical need," Lampe said. "They view it as similar to getting more exercise or other habit changes ... But they don't always want to burden their friend. So seeking help from an online community, where someone like you is always paying attention to your needs, may make a lot more sense to many people than seeking help from a doctor."