While smoking is associated with a host of health problems, be it lung cancer, heart disease or skin ailments, smokers often struggle to kick the habit as chemical changes deep in the brain drive nicotine addiction.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), tobacco kills more than 7 million people each year. More than 6 million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while around 8,90,000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand or passive smoke. Around 80% of the world’s 1.1 billion smokers live in low and middle-income countries and are at risk of coronary heart disease, stroke as well as cancer.
However, a new study shows a ray of hope. A clinical trial done by the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF) shows that smokers were 2.5 times more likely to quit post a cessation intervention programme delivered entirely on social networking giant Facebook than by other online quit-smoking programmes.
The research also shows that young adults are less likely to use evidence-based treatments for smoking cessation such as medication, counselling or phone-based quit lines. As a result, social media-based programmes could potentially expand the reach of cessation services, especially for young adult smokers — a challenging group to reach and treat.
“We found that we could reach a hard-to-reach population, have short-term abstinence, and also have excellent engagement,” said Danielle Ramo, Associate Professor at University of California-San Francisco. “The social media environment can be an engaging tobacco treatment tool, even for those not ready to quit,” Ramo added.
The study, published in the journal Addiction, involved 500 participants of an average age of 21 years. Almost 87% of the sample included daily smokers. They participated in a 90-days programme called Tobacco Status Project, where they were assigned to private Facebook groups tailored to their readiness to quit smoking.
The intervention methods included daily posts, a weekly live question and answer session, and weekly live cognitive behavioural counselling session with a doctoral-level smoking cessation counsellor. The results showed that participants were two-and-a-half times more likely to have biochemically verified abstinence from smoking compared to controls at three months (8.3% vs 3.2%), and that abstinence over a longer period occurred among those who were prepared to stop smoking compared to others.
However, the same effect was not sustained over a year during follow-up assessments. Abstinence over a longer period occurred only among those who were prepared to stop smoking versus those who simply contemplated it or those who were not thinking about it at all, the researchers said.