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How Twitter can help smokers quit

By Faeza
30 March 2016

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A new study has found that subjects in one of the first real-time, fully automated, Twitter-based smoking intervention programme - Tweet2Quit - were twice as successful at kicking the habit as those using traditional methods.

In fact, Tweet2Quit participants reported 40 percent sustained abstinence compared to 20 percent for control participants after 60 days.

"Our current results indicate significant possibilities for using social media as a delivery mechanism for health prevention intervention, specifically in smoking cessation," said researcher Cornelia Pechmann, professor of marketing at the UC Irvine Paul Merage School of Business, "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."

How the programme works

Tweet2Quit uses automated messages delivered to small, private, virtual self-help groups of smokers who are motivated to quit via Twitter.

The messages are based on clinical guidelines for smoking cessation and employ positive, open-ended questions that encourage online discussion, such as "What will you do when you feel the urge to smoke?"

On average, about 23 percent of tweets were in response to these automated texts, while 77 percent were spontaneous.

Creating virtual group accountability

"Incorporating social media-delivered automessages written by tobacco treatment experts was effective in promoting smoking cessation," Pechmann said. "The twice-daily messages encouraged people to tweet their group members, which made them more accountable for quitting."

"The online virtual support groups provide us with novel insights into the process by which smokers are committing to quitting and supporting each other in these efforts," added co-researcher Judith J. Prochaska, associate professor of medicine at Stanford.