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NAQC Newsroom: Research

UPDATE on Online Social Networks and Smoking Cessation: Strategic Research Opportunities Conference

Tuesday, November 9, 2010  
Posted by: Natalia Gromov
The Schroeder Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies held a groundbreaking conference in Washington D.C. September 30-October 1, 2010. The two day event focused on bringing together leaders from multiple disciplines, such as social science, psychology, social network science, tobacco cessation, with internet entrepreneurs, computational and mathematical scientists, and grant funders. NAQC was represented at this conference. The idea was to foster ideas and opportunities on how we can collectively create and maximize online behavioral interventions to have the biggest impact on tobacco use, and to identify priorities for future research efforts.

The participants were challenged to think about the best ways to use social networks and network analysis to maximize potential for change in behavior (individually) and within the network (social norms). We heard from experts about the application of network analysis to predict and identify the probability a smoker within a network could quit and stay quit.

The attendees learned how an individual’s social relationships could affect their health and the provision of social support as an effective intervention. It is important to determine the roles of social networks and their relevance to smoking behavior. Are "online” interventions effective at changing reality in the "offline” world? If so, to what degree?

As a research community, we are challenged with the ability to create responsive and timely interventions. In the "online” world, things change on a dime. How can we respond to those changes quickly before people move on to the next best thing? Could we learn from businesses who are thriving in online environments (games)?

Massive amounts of data are available from the online world (cell phone usage data, website data, Facebook, Twitter, etc), and we are challenged to determine what we can learn from it and whether we can leverage it for social good.

To help bring the conference back to a more personal level, a panel of end users provided attendees with their experiences using various websites and online social networks. Each panelist was a former tobacco user, and each of them expressed their need for support and how and why they sought that support online. They also described their roles in the online cessation support networks since their quit.

A full report from the Schroeder Institute is being prepared for dissemination. A link to this report will be made available through NAQC’s website.

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