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February 23rd, 2009:

Want To Quit Smoking? Study Shows Strength In Numbers

Staff Reporter, SCMP – Feb 23, 2009

Smoking is contagious, and so is quitting, according to a doctor.

Wilson Fung Yee-leung, a council member of the Hong Kong Medical Association, said a person stood a better chance of kicking the habit if he or she tried to do it with a spouse or friends.

At an anti-smoking forum organised by the association yesterday in West Kowloon, Dr Fung also urged doctors at public hospitals to consider prescribing the anti-smoking medication Varenicline as a smoking-cessation treatment because overseas studies had found the drug more effective than other remedies.

According to Department of Health statistics, the number of smokers has dropped from 14.4 per cent of Hongkongers in 2002-03 to 11.8 per cent in 2007-08.

Dr Fung said: “One can easily develop a habit if one’s friend has the habit. Smoking can be contagious. So is quitting smoking.”

Citing “The Collective Dynamics of Smoking in a Large Social Network” report in last May’s issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, Dr Fung said one person stopping smoking seemed to have an effect on others.

The closer their relationship, the more influential the impact. For example, 67 per cent of smokers said they would try quitting if their spouses did, while 36 per cent said they would if their friends did, Dr Fung said, citing the Harvard University study of 12,000 people.

One smoker, surnamed Ip, who had been smoking for more than 20 years, said she had tried other means to quit, but failed. “I tried to quit with my boyfriend,” she said. “And I also took Varenicline. I was able to stop smoking very quickly.”