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Background: Young adults have high rates of tobacco use compared to other subpopulations, yet there are relatively few tobacco interventions specifically targeted to this group. Picture Me Smokefree is an online tobacco reduction and cessation intervention for young adults that uses digital photography and social networking. Objective: The main goal of the project was to determine the feasibility of engaging young adults in participating in user-driven, online forums intended to provide peer support and motivate critical reflection about tobacco use and cessation among this high-use, hard-to-reach population. A related aim was to explore the influence of gender-related factors on participation, in order to determine the need for online interventions to be tailored to the specific gender preferences reflecting young men and women’s participation styles. Methods: A total of 60 young adults ages 19-24 years who self-identified as current cigarette smokers or who had quit within the last year were recruited from across British Columbia, Canada, and participated in an online photo group on Facebook over a period of 12 consecutive weeks. A variety of data collection methods were used including tracking online activity, a brief online follow-up survey, and qualitative interviews with study participants. Data analysis involved descriptive statistics on recruitment, retention, and participation and qualitative (eg, narrative analysis, synthesis of feedback) feedback about participant engagement. Results: Findings from this study suggest good potential for Facebook as an accessible, low-cost platform for engaging young adults to reflect on the reasons for their tobacco use, the benefits of quitting or reducing, and the best strategies for tobacco reduction. Young adults’ frequent use of mobile phones and other mobile devices to access social networking permitted ease of access and facilitated real-time peer-to-peer support across a diverse group of participants. However, our experience of conducting the study suggests that working with young tobacco users can be accompanied by considerable recruitment, participation, and retention challenges. Our findings also pointed to differences in how young women and men engaged the photo-group intervention that should be considered, bearing in mind that in follow-up interviews participants indicated their preference for a mixed gender and “gender neutral” group format. Conclusions: Tobacco interventions for youth and young adults should be embedded within the existing social networking platforms they access most frequently, rather than designing a stand-alone online prevention or intervention resource. This subpopulation would likely benefit from tobacco reduction interventions that are gender-sensitive rather than gender-specific.

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