Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Sociology of Smoking

Study Finds Big Social Factors in Quitting Smoking:

"For years, smokers have been exhorted to take the initiative and quit: use a nicotine patch, chew nicotine gum, take a prescription medication that can help, call a help line, just say no. But a new study finds that stopping is seldom an individual decision.

"Smokers tend to quit in groups, the study finds, which means smoking cessation programs should work best if they focus on groups rather than individuals. It also means that people may help many more than just themselves by quitting: quitting can have a ripple effect prompting an entire social network to break the habit.

The study, by Dr. Nicholas Christakis of Harvard Medical School and James Fowler of the University of California, San Diego, followed thousands of smokers and nonsmokers for 32 years, from 1971 until 2003, studying them as part of a large network of relatives, co-workers, neighbors, friends and friends of friends.

As cluster after cluster of smokers disappeared, those that remained were pushed to the margins of society, isolated, with fewer friends, fewer social connections. “Smokers used to be the center of the party,” Dr. Fowler said, “but now they’ve become wallflowers.”

“We’ve known smoking was bad for your physical health,” he said. “But this shows it also is bad for your social health.” Smokers, he said, “are likely to drive friends away.”

They used data from the infamous Framingham Heart Study, a longitudinal study launched by the Federal Government after World War II to observe heart disease and development in the residents of Framingham, Massachusetts (the study continues today).

From a sociological standpoint, this smoking study is yet another illustration of the power of group behavior on individual behavior, and how social marginalization and stigmatization can have even positive effects on the individual level. Clearly, we are influenced by social groups, group membership and demographics in ways we never think of.

For those just finding this blog, welcome to the world of sociology.

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