Quitting smoking could be facilitated by social media use, a new study has found. According to researchers from the University of Georgia, the sense of community instilled by health-based social media sites increases an individual’s likelihood of overcoming addiction. The findings suggest that larger platforms like Facebook and Twitter could be implemented in new smoking cessation strategies.

Although similar correlations have been probed by previous research, the current study is the first to examine the broader implications of social interconnectedness in general. Study author Jo Phua of the University of Georgia said that participation in such media makes quitting smoking much easier, as it boosts an individual’s self-efficacy and sense of accomplishment. As a result, people kick the habit much more quickly.

"This study helps further the notion that social networking sites and other forms of social media can help people to improve their health conditions," Phua said in a press release. "These can be used as a standalone way to improve chronic health conditions, or as part of a holistic treatment plan that includes both professional offline help and online social media sites."

Published in the Journal of Communication, the study used an online questionnaire to evaluate smoking cessation attempts among members of health issue-specific social networking and social media sites. Aside from the higher success rate and self-efficacy, the findings also indicated longer periods of abstinence. Even during stress and temptation, social media users were able stay away from their old habit.

The findings suggest that social media platforms may soon supplement or replace traditional “offline” cessation methods like group meetings and therapy. An online component would allow for a more fluid, personalized program. In addition, it would offer a much cheaper alternative, particularly for smokers living in rural areas.

According to the National Institutes of Health, smoking and tobacco use are associated with a variety of health risks. Serious concerns include elevated blood pressure, skewed cholesterol levels, cardiac arrhythmia, and cancer. In the U.S., cigarette smoking accounts for 90 percent of all lung cancers.

Source: Phua J. Participating in Health Issue-Specific Social Networking Sites to Quit Smoking: How Does Online Social Interconnectedness Influence Smoking Cessation Self-Efficacy? Journal of Communication. 2013.