Introduction: Smokers' social networks vary in size, composition, and amount of exposure to smoking. The extent to which smokers' social networks change after a quit attempt is unknown, as is the relation between quitting success and later network changes.
Methods: Unique types of social networks for 691 smokers enrolled in a smoking-cessation trial were identified based on network size, new network members, members' smoking habits, within network smoking, smoking buddies, and romantic partners' smoking. Latent transition analysis was used to identify the network classes and to predict transitions in class membership across 3 years from biochemically assessed smoking abstinence.
Results: Five network classes were identified: Immersed (large network, extensive smoking exposure including smoking buddies), Low Smoking Exposure (large network, minimal smoking exposure), Smoking Partner (small network, smoking exposure primarily from partner), Isolated (small network, minimal smoking exposure), and Distant Smoking Exposure (small network, considerable nonpartner smoking exposure). Abstinence at years 1 and 2 was associated with shifts in participants' social networks to less contact with smokers and larger networks in years 2 and 3.
Conclusions: In the years following a smoking-cessation attempt, smokers' social networks changed, and abstinence status predicted these changes. Networks defined by high levels of exposure to smokers were especially associated with continued smoking. Abstinence, however, predicted transitions to larger social networks comprising less smoking exposure. These results support treatments that aim to reduce exposure to smoking cues and smokers, including partners who smoke.
Implications: Prior research has shown that social network features predict the likelihood of subsequent smoking cessation. The current research illustrates how successful quitting predicts social network change over 3 years following a quit attempt. Specifically, abstinence predicts transitions to networks that are larger and afford less exposure to smokers. This suggests that quitting smoking may expand a person's social milieu rather than narrow it. This effect, plus reduced exposure to smokers, may help sustain abstinence.
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