Twitter can help smokers kick the habit, make more friends

The twice-daily Twitter messages encourage those trying to quit smoking to be more accountable, marketing professor Cornelia Pechmann says.
The twice-daily Twitter messages encourage those trying to quit smoking to be more accountable, marketing professor Cornelia Pechmann says.

Kicking a smoking habit can feel like a lonely endeavor, but researchers in California have found Twitter's social media platform can help build a community of successful quitters.

When subjects in a smoking cessation program tweeted each other regularly, they had a cessation rate of up to 75%, according to researchers.

The key was a counselor-developed daily “automessage” delivered via a Tweet2Quit group. Open-ended messages, such as, “What will you do when you feel the urge to smoke?” encouraged exchanges between participants. About 23% of tweets were responding to these texts; 77% were spontaneous.

Cornelia Pechmann, professor of marketing at University of California-Irvine's Paul Merage School of Business, and Judith J. Prochaska, associate professor of medicine at Stanford, reported in the Journal of Medical Internet Research that 78% of participants tweeted their fellow study subjects at least once during the 100-day study.

The study's original test group had a smoking cessation rate of 42%. When researchers tweaked the automessaging process, a second group had a success rate of 75%.

Participants were furnished with free nicotine patches and a web-based guide to develop a cessation plan. They were asked to tweet their group daily.

“The Twitter environment created a sort of party dynamic,” Pechmann said. “That's especially important for social smokers.”