Friends can help you quit smoking

Laura Mappas
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Quit smoking. Image: Getty

New research shows that the urge to smoke is contagious, but giving up is too. So much so, that when smokers quit in groups those still puffing away soon become the outcasts.

Peer pressure
Researchers at the Harvard Medical School in Boston, found that a smoker is more likely to kick the habit if a spouse, friend, co-worker or sibling quits too. In fact, when a spouse stops smoking, the other partner is 67 percent less likely to continue smoking — proving that just quitting can be contagious, spreading from person to person.

On top of this, once a number of smokers in a group give up, those who are left smoking often find themselves on the outer — they're suddenly the minority.

A knock-on effect
So peer influence plays a large role in the decision to quit smoking, and gives credence to the evidence that the 'buddy system' enlisted by many who are in the quitting-zone actually works.

"Your smoking behaviour depends upon not just the smoking behaviour of the people you know, but also the people they know," explains Dr Nicholas Christakis, a medical sociologist from Harvard Medical School and the lead author of the study. This means you've inadvertently influenced and affected by a number of people, and these people aren't necessarily people who are close to you.

Jennifer Unger, a smoking prevention expert from the University of Southern California, explains, "If you influence a few people [and help them quit smoking], those people might go on to help others quit" and so on.

Outside influence
So friends and family, or pretty much anyone can play a part in encouraging smokers to pack it in. But Stanley Wasserman, a statistician from Indiana University in Indianapolis, who studies social networks, casts some doubt. He stresses that it's difficult to pinpoint the exact reason people quit, unless you actually ask them. He adds that external factors, such as public bans on smoking or studies highlighting the damaging health effects of smoking may also play a part.

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