Smokers who use an Internet quit smoking program are more likely to stick with it if they connect with other members in an online social network, and if the program provides free nicotine replacement therapy, suggests a new Truth Initiative® study.

The study, published in Nicotine & Tobacco Research found that use of an Internet smoking cessation program was highest among smokers who received these extra “supports”–both social and pharmacologic.

“Internet interventions can help smokers quit, but the challenge is getting would-be quitters to take advantage of all the available tools that are critical to quitting successfully,” said Dr. Amanda Graham, a research investigator at Truth Initiative’s Schroeder Institute® and lead author of the study. “This study showed that the combination of a social network approach and a free course of medication increased overall use of the program.”

Many Internet health behavior change programs struggle to keep users engaged

Researchers set out to test the impact of different strategies designed to boost engagement with an Internet quit smoking program. They recruited more than 5,000 smokers from BecomeAnEX.org, a free quit smoking program by Truth Initiative. BecomeAnEX provides practical tips and strategies for quitting, information about recommended medications and opportunities to connect online with current and former smokers in its social network.

All participants had full access to the tools and social network on BecomeAnEX.org. In addition, some participants received personal welcome messages from existing members, some received free nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) and some received both.

After three months, the researchers found that smokers who received messages from other members and free NRT became the most engaged with the program. The two strategies reinforced each other: smokers provided with free NRT not only used NRT more, they had higher rates of social network and website engagement.

“Many Internet health behavior change programs struggle to keep users engaged,” said Graham. “This study is one of the first to test specific strategies to boost engagement with the ultimate goal of improving quit rates. Our findings show that social and pharmacologic approaches are a successful combination to tackle this problem.”

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