The New Peer Pressure: Let Your Facebook Friends Shame You Into Quitting Cigarettes

According to a new study, social media can help young smokers quit.

The New Peer Pressure: Let Your Facebook Friends Shame You Into Quitting Cigarettes
[Photo: Flickr user Leo Hidalgo]

I have never smoked a cigarette in my life. Something about watching both of my parents suffer the health consequences of the nasty habit turned me into a militant anti-smoker from a young age. If you’re on the opposite end of the spectrum and can’t seem to kick the habit, I have an idea: Accept my friend request.


As it turns out, people who use social media to help them quit smoking are more likely to succeed than those who opt for more traditional methods. Young Canadian smokers who used a Facebook-powered campaign called Break It Off were more than twice as likely to succeed in quitting than those who used a phone hotline, according to a new study published in Nicotine & Tobacco Research.

The Break It Off campaign, which was launched by the Canadian government in 2012, lets smokers connect their Facebook account and publicly declare their intention to quit. The campaign’s website compaers the process of quitting to a difficult but necessary breakup and lets smokers declare their new smoke-free “relationship status” on Facebook.

The Break It Off website lets smokers declare a new “relationship” with cigarettes.

As you might guess, notifying everyone you know of a goal you intend to reach can actually have an impact on the likelihood of you reaching that goal. In the study, 32% of smokers who used Break It Off and related web-based methods managed to quit, compared to 14% who quit after using a telephone hotline.

By contrast, leaning on even a well-informed stranger via telephone just doesn’t have quite the same weight as peer pressure–ironically, the very same force that often gets people to light up in the first place. It’s possible that similar effect would be seen among people who verbally tell their friends that they’re planning to quit, and that Facebook is just a much more efficient way to spread the word.

I can see how this effect would play out. A friend of mine recently announced on Facebook that she was quitting smoking and now uses an app called Quit Pro to track her progress. By so publicly declaring her intention to quit, she ensured that the topic would come up in real-world social settings from time to time. I personally have no qualms about trying to make people I care about feel bad for smoking, and I know I’m not alone.

About the author

John Paul Titlow is a writer at Fast Company focused on music and technology, among other things.