The Social Networks of Smokers Attempting to Quit: An Empirically Derived and Validated Classification

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Abstract

Social relationships play an important role in the uptake, maintenance, and cessation of smoking behavior. However, little is known about the natural co-occurrence of social network features in adult smokers’ networks and how multidimensional features of the network may connect to abstinence outcomes. The current investigation examined whether qualitatively distinct subgroups defined by multiple characteristics of the social network could be empirically identified within a sample of smokers initiating a quit attempt. Egocentric social network data were collected from 1571 smokers (58% female, 83% white) engaged in a 3-year smoking cessation clinical trial. Using nine indicator variables reflecting both risk and protective network features, finite mixture models identified five social network subgroups: High Stress/High Contact, Large and Supportive, Socially Disconnected, Risky Friends and Low Contact, and High Contact with Smokers and Light Drinkers. External variables supported the validity of the identified subgroups and the subgroups were meaningfully associated with baseline demographic, psychiatric, and tobacco measures. The Socially Disconnected subgroup was characterized by little social interaction, low levels of stress, and low exposure to social environmental smoking cues, and had the highest probability of successful cessation at 1 week compared with all other social network subgroups. At 6 months posttreatment its members had higher abstinence rates than members of the High Stress/High Contact subgroup and the Risky Friends and Low Contact subgroup. The present study highlights the heterogeneity of smokers’ social milieus and suggests that network features, especially those entailing exposure to smoking cues and contexts, heighten risk for smoking cessation failure.

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