Researchers found that it was easier for people to quit smoking when others in their social circle also kicked the habit. People followed the quitting habits of their spouses, friends, brothers and sisters, and in small firms, behaviour of co-workers was also influential.
The greatest influence was seen in close relationships. When a husband or wife quit, the chance that their spouse would smoke, fell by 67%. When a brother or sister quit, the chance a sibling smoked decreased by 25%. Smoking cessation by a friend decreased the chances by 36% and among people working in small firms, smoking cessation by a co-worker decreased the chances by 34%.
Those who continued to smoke, meanwhile, formed their own social circles that, over time, shifted from the centre of the social network to the periphery.
This research highlights the powerful role that social networks play in smoking behaviours and decisions. It suggests that cessation programs may work better if aimed at groups rather than individuals and indicates that one person quitting may lead to others quitting too.
Source information: Christakis, Nicholas A. and Fowler, James H. The collective dynamics of smoking in a large social network. New England Journal of Medicine 358(21), May 22, 2008, 2249-2258.
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