Does an extensive social network help in quitting? Apparently yes, according to a study partially supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Smokers are known to have flocking behavior and this behavior seems to help in quitting as well. In other words, it is easier to quit as a group.
When smoking was still socially acceptable and not considered a health threat, smokers and nonsmokers tended to mix socially a lot. After evidence of the bad effects of passive or secondhand smoking came to light, smokers and nonsmokers tended to form distinct clusters. And with the recently implemented strong anti-smoking laws, smokers have become marginalized. Now more than ever does one need a social network. It makes it easier to deal with the marginalization – and with quitting.
The current study by researchers at Harvard analyzed the social network and behavior of 12,067 people who are part of the Framingham Heart Study (FHS). The FHS is a long-term study that collects comprehensive measures of cardiovascular health and risk factors in a community connected as family, friends and co-workers spanning three generations.
Analysis showed that the closer the relationship to an individual, the greater is the influence on behavioral change including quitting smoking.
Here are some of the interesting findings of the study:
- When a husband or wife quit, it decreased the chance of their spouse smoking by 67 percent.
- When a sibling quit, it reduced the chance of smoking by 25 percent among their brothers and sisters.
- A friend quitting decreased the chance of smoking by 36 percent among their friends.
- In small firms, a co-worker quitting could decrease smoking among peers by 34 percent. In larger firms, the influence was insignificant.
- Neighbors did not seem to be influenced by each other’s smoking habits.
Other interesting aspects of the study showed that geography plays a much lesser role than the closeness of a relationship. Thus, emotional ties help more that physical distance when it comes to quitting.
According to Dr. Richard Suzman, director of the NIA’s Division of Behavioral and Social Research
“This study has an essential public health message—that no one is an island—our health is partially determined by our social networks and those around us. The decision to quit smoking cascaded throughout the web, indicating that some form of collective decision-making was taking place. The results suggest new and probably more powerful approaches to changing health behaviors, such as smoking, by careful targeting of small peer groups as well as single individuals.”
In all types of addiction, a support group has always been important. In quitting to smoke, it doesn’t have to be a formally organized support group. It’s family and friends that count, wherever they are. In today’s technology driven world, keeping in contact is easier than ever. An SMS, a tweet or a Facebook poke can tell us that someone out there cares and is cheering on our efforts. And that is comforting and encouraging.