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Friday, 23 May 2008 00:25

Study finds quitting smoking easier in groups

Harvard University/University of California study finds friends, family, and coworkers who stop smoking makes it much more likely for a smoker to also stop smoking.

The study “The Collective Dynamics of Smoking in a Large Social Network” was published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). Its authors are Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler.

U.S. social scientist Nicholas Christakis is associated with the Department of Health Care Policy at the Harvard Medical School (Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A.); and the Department of Medicine at the Mt. Auburn Hospital and the Department of Sociology at Harvard University (both at Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.A.).

U.S. political scientist James Fowler is associated with the Department of Political Science  at the University of California (San Diego, California, U.S.A.).

The researchers’ reason for performing this study was to determine patterns in smoking and smoking cessation. According to their abstract, over the past thirty years, the percentage of people smoking in the United States has steadily decreased.

Consequently, Christakis and Fowler wanted to find out the “… extent of the person-to-person spread of smoking behavior and the extent to which groups of widely connected people quit together.” [NEJM study]

To accomplish this goal, the researchers studied a network of 12,067 people from 1971 to 2003 as part of the Framingham Heart Study, which was conducted in association with the National Institute of Health, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Christakis and Fowler found that people who smoked often smoked together as a group, and people who didn’t smoke often were affiliated with others who also didn’t smoke.

Specifically, their study discovered that the size of groups of smokers remained the same over this time period from 1971 to 2003. Therefore, the researchers concluded that often entire groups of smokers were quitting together during this period.

Smokers, it was also learned, were often found on the edge (the “periphery”) of a social network.

More results from the study appear on the next page.

They also found these following results:

Smoking cessation (the process of quitting smoking) by a spouse also decreased a person’s chance of smoking by 67%.

Quitting smoking by a sibling decreased the chances of a person smoking by 25%.

Smoking cessation by a friend decreased the chances of a person smoking by 36%.

When groups of people in small businesses were studies, the researchers found that cessation by a coworker decreased the chances of a person smoking by 34%.

The more education a person attains, then the more ability that person has at influencing someone else to quit smoking, however, such influence was not found among close neighbors in a person’s local neighborhood.

The researchers concluded that smoking cessation seems to be more effective depending on a person’s network of friends, family, and coworkers. People with close ties with other people who stopped smoking also seemed to stop smoking more frequently than if those people did not stop smoking.

The researchers specifically concluded in the abstract to their paper, “Network phenomena appear to be relevant to smoking cessation. Smoking behavior spreads through close and distant social ties, groups of interconnected people stop smoking in concert, and smokers are increasingly marginalized socially. These findings have implications for clinical and public health interventions to reduce and prevent smoking.”

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