Young adults are less likely to use evidence-based treatments for smoking cessation such as medication, counselling or phone-based quit lines, research has shown. As a result, social media-based programmes could potentially expand the reach of cessation services.
‘Social media program like Facebook has a significant effect on quitting during the time of intervention among young adults.’
It can be used effectively to support short-term positive behaviour change, especially among young adult smokers, a challenging group to reach and treat, the researchers said.
"We found that we could reach a hard-to-reach population, have short-term abstinence, and also have excellent engagement," said Danielle Ramo, Associate Professor at University of California-San Francisco (UCSF).
"The social media environment can be an engaging tobacco treatment tool, even for those not ready to quit," Ramo added.
The study, published in the journal Addiction,
involved 500 participants of an average age of 21 years old. Almost 87 percent of the sample included daily smokers.
They participated in a 90-days programme called Tobacco Status Project, where they were assigned to private Facebook groups tailored to their readiness to quit smoking.
The intervention methods included daily posts, weekly live question and answer sessions, and weekly live cognitive behavioural counselling sessions with a doctoral-level smoking cessation counsellor.
The results showed that participants were two-and-a-half times more likely to have biochemically verified abstinence from smoking compared to controls at three months (8.3 percent vs 3.2 percent) and that abstinence over a longer period occurred among those who were prepared to stop smoking compared to others.
However, the same effect was not sustained over a year during follow-up assessments.
Abstinence over a longer period occurred only among those who were prepared to stop smoking versus those who simply contemplated it or those who were not thinking about it at all, the researchers said.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), tobacco kills more than 7 million people each year.
More than 6 million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while around 890,000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand or passive smoke.
Around 80 percent of the world's 1.1 billion smokers live in low and middle-income countries and are at health risks such as coronary heart disease, stroke as well as cancers.