“But he can’t be a man ’cause he doesn’t smoke
The same cigarettes as me.”
— Rolling Stones, (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

An article in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine illuminates the social dynamics of smoking and quitting, and generated a lot of attention in the media.  The study followed twelve thousand people, many of whom were initially smokers, from 1971 until 2003.  The large group was all connected in one large social network, meaning all of them were connected to each other through friendship and marriage.

The study followed this large group for 32 years and studied the social patterns of those who quit smoking.  The results showed that smokers very frequently quit in social groups, not alone.  So when one smoker quit, it was very likely that much of the social network directly connected to her quit as well.  This suggests that quitting smoking is much more of a group behavior than an individual decision.

Interestingly, as time went on, those who remained smokers became increasingly marginalized in the social network, as those with the most social connections became the least likely to smoke.  So it appears that the social status associated with smoking a generation ago has reversed.  It’s finally cool to quit.

Learn more:

New York Times article:  Study Finds Big Social Factor in Quitting Smoking

New England Journal of Medicine Article:  The Collective Dynamics of Smoking in a Large Social Network

New England Journal of Medicine Editorial:  Stranded in the Periphery — The Increasing Marginalization of Smokers

A fascinating animation of the data in the study