Smoking cessation Facebook groups help, but only in short term

By Laura Lovett
04:25 pm
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Members of a smoking cessation Facebook group were 2.5 times more successful in quitting than controls over three-month, according to a recent study published in Addiction. However, after a year, those in the intervention group actually had lower rates of cessation than the control group. 

"We found that we could reach a hard-to-reach population, have short-term abstinence, and also have excellent engagement," Danielle Ramo, first author of the study and an associate professor of psychiatry at University of California, San Francisco, said in a statement. "It suggests that the social media environment can be an engaging tobacco treatment tool, even for those not ready to quit. This group may have participated in the trial solely for monetary incentives, but their engagement and limited dropout suggest that a social media intervention could help them move toward long-term abstinence.”

Ramo and colleagues recruited 500 young adults with a mean age of 21 years. Study participants were 73 percent white and 55 percent female. Eighty-seven percent of participants were daily smokers. 

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In the trial, which lasted three months, participants were split into two study groups. The first group was referred to the National Cancer Institute smokefree.gov website, whereas participants in the intervention group were assigned to a secret Facebook group based on their stage of smoking cessation, including pre-contemplation, contemplation, and preparation. All of the Facebook groups had posts about evidence-based smoking cessation strategies. Each week, participants were offered a live session with a smoking cessation counselor, where participants could ask questions. Those in the preparation group were given six 45-minute cognitive behavioral therapy sessions over the three months, which were delivered biweekly through Facebook events. 

All study participants earned $100 for completing the follow-up assessment. Members of some randomly selected Facebook groups were given additional gift card incentives for commenting on posts.

Researchers found that at the end of three months, 8.3 percent of users in the Facebook group had a seven-day verified abstinence, compared with 3.2 percent of participants in the control group. But after a year the intervention group had a 5.9 cessation rate, compared to 10 percent in the control group.

“The ... Facebook quit smoking intervention did not significantly reduce the odds of  a biochemically verified quit over 12 months when compared to an evidence based website,” researchers of the study wrote. “However, this study, the first to report use of Facebook as a smoking cessation intervention, did result in a high level of engagement, a good level of active participation, and limited drop-out.”

The researchers went on to say that these long-term trends suggest a potential value to extending the intervention's duration.

“Compared with referral to a smoking cessation website, a novel USA‐focused Facebook smoking cessation intervention did not improve abstinence from smoking over one year, but did increased abstinence at the end of treatment and was engaging to participants,” the authors wrote. 

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