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Quitting smoking is socially contagious

Smoking and the decision to quit spreads through social ties, both close and distant, said researchers in the U.S., who looked into smoking patterns in social networks and found that people follow the quitting habits of their spouses, friends, br...

Smoking and the decision to quit spreads through social ties, both close and distant, said researchers in the U.S., who looked into smoking patterns in social networks and found that people follow the quitting habits of their spouses, friends, brothers and sisters, and, in small firms, behavior of work colleagues was also influential.

The results showed:

A person was 67 percent less likely to be a smoker once their spouse had quit, 25 percent less likely once their sibling quit, 36 percent less likely once a friend quit and, in small firms, 34 percent less likely once a co-worker quit (there was little significant influence among co-workers in large firms).

The study was the work of researchers Dr. Nicholas A Christakis, of Harvard Medical School, in Boston, Massachusetts, and Dr. James Fowler, of the University of California, San Diego, and appears in the New England Journal of Medicine, NEJM. It was funded primarily by the National Institutes of Health's National Institute on Aging (NIA), and was also supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

In their background information, Christakis and Fowler wrote there has been a substantial fall in the number of smokers in the U.S. in the last 30 years and they wanted to find out how social ties affected smoking behavior and the decision to quit in particular.

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The two researchers studied a rich set of data from more than 12,000 people who were part of a densely interconnected social network and had been assessed several times between 1971 and 2003 as participants of the Framingham Heart Study.

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