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Smoking Cessation: How Best to ‘Pack’ It In

Smoking Cigarettes Study Suggests Peers Often Determine Success or Failure  

So I was watching one of those reality TV shows the other day and I happened to notice something that I thought was on the decrease:  people smoking cigarettes.  The participants in this reality series were all sitting around, talking about the latest task they had to perform and the importance of doing well.  Anyway,

what really had me taken aback was that every one of them had a cigarette either in their mouth or resting between their index and middle fingers.  Though I’m not sure this group of four were bosom friends, the research indicates that if just one of them started working on quitting, the more likely it is that the others would.

At this point, every one in the world knows the dangers of cigarette smoking and the damage it does to the lungs and heart.  Why anyone would start smoking is beyond me.  My hope is that each and every one of the approximately 50 million smokers in the United States are at least trying to quit.  But if they’re constantly among friends or family members who have no desire to quit, the likelihood of their quitting is unlikely.

Published in the May 2008 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers from the University of California-San Diego investigated whether or not there was any solid evidence supporting the notion that smokers were affected by peer pressure, that if their friends worked on quitting, perhaps they would as well.

To determine whether social pressures had an effect on smokers required quite a bit of research and background information – especially because over 12,000 people took part in their study.  For example, the 12,000 participants had to list the names of friends and family members with whom they associated, how close they were to those friends and family members and whether or not they smoked.  The researchers then had to keep track of these participants and their peers in order to determine whether or not they kept smoking over the 30-year time frame investigated (the participants were also part of a separate study that looked into whether weight gain was “contagious” among friends).

What they found was that the closer one person was to another, the more likely it was that they tended to have the same habits.  For example, according to their results, if one spouse quit smoking, there was a 67 percent chance the other spouse would kick the habit as well.  And if a friend of one of the spouses quit smoking, there was a 35 percent chance the other would quit.  A smaller percentage, sure, but 35 percent is still significant.  In fact, even friends of friends had an effect on smoking cessation.  For instance, if one of the spouse’s friends had a friend who stopped smoking, and that knowledge became known to the spouse, there was a 29 percent chance of the spouse quitting!

Now, the researchers grant that the reliability of their findings is somewhat lacking as it can’t be stated for certain that spouses or friends directly influenced someone quitting or not quitting smoking.  The only way to determine that for certain is asking them directly.  But even asking someone directly is not exactly a reliable determinant because of the Hawthorne effect; where someone tells you what you want to hear and not necessarily what is true (if you were or are a Political Science major, you know what I’m talking about).

Despite its shortcomings, the correlation is convincing enough, from my perspective, that who you interact with socially has an enormous impact on your health – for good or ill.

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