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How online tools to help smokers quit can go viral

Online tools to help smokers quit can be designed to make it more likely that users will share the apps and make them “go viral” according to new research published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Researchers at the Schroeder Institute® for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies at Truth Initiative developed a Facebook app to help smokers quit and exposed users to 12 different versions of the app, in order to measure what aspects made users more likely to share the app with their Facebook friends.

Smokers who installed the Facebook app received quitting guides, videos, and animated content from a cartoon physician named Dr. Youkwitz. The app was designed around evidence-based quit smoking treatment guidelines, with Dr. Youkwitz asking users whether they smoke, advising smokers to quit, assessing their readiness to quit, and assisting them in setting a quit date.

The study enrolled 9,042 smokers 18 and older who wanted to quit. Study results showed that users exposed to more content that they could share over longer periods of time and who were encouraged to actively invite their friends to use the app were more likely to share the app.

“Our findings show that it is possible to build a smoking cessation application that will spread through social networks. The potential for public health campaigns to disseminate more broadly at no additional cost is particularly exciting,” said Amanda Graham, director of research development at the Schroeder Institute.