Celebrity cancer patients help smokers quit, new study finds


Even more compelling a reason to quit smoking than the New Year is being inundated with media coverage about a celebrity with cancer, according to a new study.

Research published in the journal Preventive Medicine found that when celebrities openly discuss their struggles with cancer, people are more likely to search for information about smoking cessation than during events like New Year's Day or World No Tobacco Day.

"This study is the first to demonstrate that celebrity diagnoses can prompt the public to engage in behaviors that prevent cancer," said Seth M. Noar, coauthor and health communication professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "Harnessing this finding will save far more lives than screening alone."

The study

Researchers have already established that celebrity cancer diagnoses can inspire other cancer patients to seek the same treatments, but until now it has been unclear whether these stories also assist in prevention behaviors.

For the current study, the team investigated how former Brazilian President Lula da Silva's cancer diagnosis (which was attributed to his smoking habit) influenced the public's online search activity about the event.

They found that Google searches related to smoking cessation went up 67 percent - which corresponded to media coverage about quitting smoking that increased about 500 percent right after the diagnosis.

Staying power

Even two weeks after the diagnosis, when media outlets stopped covering the news, Google searches were 153 percent higher than they normally were for smoking cessation information. The trend continued for four weeks after the announcement, a press release on the study stated.

"Lula's announced cancer diagnosis, though tragic, was potentially the greatest smoking cessation-promoting event in Brazilian history," Ayers said. "Interest in quitting smoking, as indicated by Google searches, reached its highest recorded level after Lula's diagnosis, even when compared to traditional cessation awareness events such as New Year's Day."

After Lula's diagnosis, Brazilian lawmakers also took note and strengthened anti-tobacco measures.

"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," the study authors wrote. "Not only will quitting prevent throat cancer, but it can prevent nearly all cancers, including lung, stomach, breast, etc."

Source: San Diego State University

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