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Stanford Medicine

Cancer, Global Health, Research

News of a celebrity’s cancer may prompt people to quit smoking

ash2Celebrities draw attention to fashion and beauty trends, charitable causes and fitness crazes, among other things. Now, a study has found that media attention given to a celebrity’s cancer diagnosis may be a powerful motivator to help more people quit smoking.

Scientists from San Diego State University, the Santa Fe Institute, the University of North Carolina and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health examined Internet news searches and found that more people seek information on smoking cessation after a celebrity has publicly struggled with cancer than on New Year’s Day or World No Tobacco Day, both popular quitting times.

From a release:

Using the case of former Brazilian President Lula da Silva, who was diagnosed with laryngeal cancer in October 2011 and attributed his cancer to his long-held smoking habit, the researchers analyzed both media coverage of smoking cessation and the public’s online search activity surrounding the event.

By mining Google News archives, the team found Brazilian news coverage of quitting increased as much as 500 percent immediately after the diagnosis — and remained 163 percent higher for one week — before returning to typical levels. At the same time, Brazilian Google searches related to quitting smoking increased by 67 percent.

However, long after the media stopped covering Lula’s diagnosis, the public had not forgotten. Two weeks after the diagnosis, quitting-related Google searches remained 153 percent higher than expected, and remained 130 percent and 71 percent higher three and four weeks respectively after Lula’s announcement.

Study co-author Benjamin Althouse, PhD, an epidemiologist at the Santa Fe Institute, added, “In practical terms, we estimated there were about 1.1 million more quit-smoking queries in Brazil the month after Lula’s diagnosis than expected. Not only will quitting prevent throat cancer, but it can prevent nearly all cancers, including lung, stomach, breast, etc.”

The paper was published in the journal Preventive Medicine.

Previously: Quitting smoking for the baby you plan to have togetherCraving a cigarette but trying to quit? A supportive text message might help and Smoking rates increasing in the developing world
Photo by cogdogblog

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