Researchers from San Diego State University, the Santa Fe Institute, the University of North Carolina and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that when celebrities publicly discuss their struggles with cancer diagnoses, the resulting media coverage prompts more smokers to search for information on quitting than events like New Year's Day or World No Tobacco Day.
The researchers, led by San Diego State University research professor John W. Ayers, investigated whether a different method might yield new insights.
Using the case of former Brazilian President Lula da Silva, who was diagnosed with laryngeal cancer in October 2011 and attributed his cancer to his long-held smoking habit, the researchers analyzed both media coverage of smoking cessation and the public's online search activity surrounding the event.
The team found Brazilian news coverage of quitting increased as much as 500 percent immediately after the diagnosis- and remained 163 percent higher for one week- before returning to typical levels.
However, long after the media stopped covering Lula's diagnosis, the public had not forgotten. Two weeks after the diagnosis, quitting-related Google searches remained 153 percent higher than expected, and remained 130 percent and 71 percent higher three and four weeks respectively after Lula's announcement.
The study is published in journal Preventive Medicine.