Social media and social networking tools such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter are increasingly being used to help tackle smoking, particularly with young adults. One of the advantages of these platforms is that they are accessible, low cost and familiar to young people. About 15 million Australians are active users of Facebook – around 63% of the total population.
Research by the McNair Ingenuity Research Institute in 2014 found that Facebook is a popular means of communication among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. According to this study (which is ongoing), even in remote communities use of Facebook is higher than in mainstream Australian society.
The use of Facebook and Twitter as a way of communicating is a popular approach for many healthcare services. However the value of these tools seems to lie more in their networking functions. Social media is interactive and user-driven, meaning it has the potential to provide real-time peer to peer support and discussion around tobacco use.
There is currently a lack of evidence of the effectiveness of using social media in tobacco control. Studies that do exist tend to be descriptive, with a focus on the acceptability of the medium to support quitting, or an analysis of posts. A recent study from Canada provides some support for the use of social media for extending the reach and impact of more traditional smoking cessation approaches among young adult smokers. The study found that young people engaged through social media were more than twice as likely to have made a successful quit attempt three months into the campaign than those not on social media and using on-line support only.
Menzies School of Health Research has recently produced a tips and tricks resource for people working in health promotion and tobacco control, Social media in health promotion and tobacco control: tips and tricks. An accompanying PowerPoint presentation, Can Facebook help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to quit smoking? is also available.
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