Trying to quit smoking? You may want to take up tweeting.
A new study out of the University of California found that participants in one of the first real-time, fully automated Twitter-based smoking intervention programs were two times more successful at kicking the habit than those using traditional methods.
The program, called Tweet2Quit, recruited participants to enroll in private Twitter groups comprised of 20 people and lasted for 100 days. Each group also included a Tweet2Quit bot that sent twice-daily, automated tweets to encourage conversations in the group, which researchers said made the participants more accountable for quitting.
Messages employed positive, open-ended questions that encouraged online discussion, such as, “What will you do when you feel the urge to smoke?” They were developed based on clinical guidelines and written by tobacco treatment experts.
After 60 days, participants reported 40 percent sustained abstinence from smoking. The control group reported half that, a 20 percent rate.
“Our current results indicate significant possibilities for using social media as a delivery mechanism for health prevention intervention, specifically in smoking cessation,” said the study’s lead author, Cornelia Pechmann, in a news release. “Because of the low cost and high scalability of social media, Tweet2Quit has tremendous potential to deliver low-cost tobacco treatments on a global scale.”
Janeen Bazan, registered nurse and nurse navigator for cancer care at Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin, Ill., says she can understand why Twitter would be an effective tool to help people quit, as it is an instant and broad support network.
“I encourage my patients to develop a strong support network of family and friends and to participate in support groups for accountability and reassurance,” says Bazan. “Through this program, in one quick tweet you can reach 20 or more people dealing with the same challenges you are and receive instant affirmation to help you stay on track.”
Bazan also suggests using all the tools available to help you quit, such as free resources made available by the American Cancer Society, as some methods work better than others for different people. She hosts an in-person smoking cessation support group every two weeks, as well as the American Cancer Society Fresh Start 4-week program at the hospital.
Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, as it harms nearly every organ in the body. However, in the first one to five years after quitting, the risk of heart disease, stroke and many types of cancer significantly decrease, potentially adding years to one’s life.
The researchers plan to investigate how small social groups could work in more fields of health promotion and disease prevention, including exercise and weight control.