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Social support and quitter-identity may help smokers quit

Receiving positive support and seeing yourself as being a quitter may help smokers quit, say Eline Meijer and colleagues. The health psychologists published their study in Social Science & Medicine.

Opportunities to help smokers quit

They examined the role of identity and social support in the relationship between socio-economic status (SES) and smoking behaviour.The results of the study provide opportunities to help smokers quit successfully. 'The social environment of smokers can be stimulated to provide the social support they need', says Meijer. 'Further, interventions could aim at strengthening identification with quitting. Smokers who are able to picture themselves as being quitters are more likely to quit smoking.'

Social support

Participants indicated which types of social support they would like to receive and expected to receive, if they would attempt to quit smoking. Three types of social support were taken into account:

  • positive support (e.g., expressions of confidence in the ability to quit);
  • negative support (e.g., saying that smoking is unhealthy);
  • practical support (e.g., going for a walk to distract from withdrawal).

The study showed that all smokers wish for positive support for quitting smoking, regardless of SES. However, lower-SES smokers expect to receive more negative and practical support for quitting. No differences in quit-intention were found between the SES groups. Importantly, smokers who expect to receive positive responses to their quit attempt are more inclined to move toward quitting. This suggests that social support may help smokers quit.

Quitter or smoker self-identity

Intention to quit is not only stronger when smokers expect more support, it also appears to depend on how smokers see themselves. Stronger intentions to quit were found in smokers

  • who could see themselves as being quitters (quitter self-identity),
  • who perceived themselves less as smokers (smoker self-identity) and
  • who felt more positive about non-smokers (non-smoker group identity).

Quitter and non-smoker identity are more important for quit-intentions than smoker identity. Hence, ‘who I will become’ appeared to be more important than ‘who I am’.

Smoking and socio-economic status

Previous research has clearly shown that smoking behaviour differs between people with lower and higher socio-economic status (SES). Smoking is more prevalent in lower-SES groups, and lower-SES smokers are less likely to quit successfully. In addition, social support for quitting smoking is less available to lower-SES smokers than higher-SES smokers. Eline Meijer and her co-researchers examined how socio-economic status influences smoking behaviour, considering the influence of identity processes and social support. In their study, 387 daily smokers filled in an online survey. They answered questions about topics such as expected and desired social support for quitting smoking, identity (identification with behaviour and groups), and intention to quit smoking.

Social Science & Medicine

Socio-economic status in relation to smoking: The role of (expected and desired) social support and quitter identity by Eline Meijer, Winnie Gebhardt, Colette van Laar, Ramin Kawous and Sarah Beijk was published in Social Science & Medicine.

Eline Meijer is PhD candidate at the Health, Medical and Neuropsychology unit.

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