KICKING THE HABIT: SEX DIFFERENCES IN SMOKING CESSATION
Jennifer Wider, MD
SWHR, Contributing Writer
August 2, 2012
A recent study challenged an enduring belief that women were less successful than men in
quitting smoking. The study, published in the journal Tobacco Control, found convincing evidence that across all of the age groups, “there [is] relatively little difference in cessation between the sexes.”
The researchers used data from major national surveys in the United States, Canada, and England to approximate the rates of smoking cessation by age in men and women. They did find a pattern of sex differences in smoking cessation which was consistent across all surveyed countries. According to the study, “below age 50, women were more likely to have given up smoking completely compared to men, while among older age groups, men were more likely to have quit than women.” Different age groups had sex differences in smoking cessation but the authors are not sure what accounted for the finding.
This most recent study is the largest epidemiological study to date, and the authors have found no solid evidence to support the longstanding claims that smoking cessation is more difficult for women. According to the study, “The myth of female disadvantage at quitting smoking is bad, first and foremost, for women,” because they may get discouraged quickly and end their efforts prematurely. But the authors also expressed that it is detrimental for men who may think they are at an advantage and then not put forth the proper effort to end their smoking habit. The study claims, “it is time to put aside the idea that women are less successful than men at giving up smoking.”
Despite the findings of this new study, the difficulty of smoking cessation based on sex should not be discounted. According to several studies, women experience more severe withdrawal symptoms than men when quitting smoking, which can make the act of quitting much harder and more uncomfortable for women. In addition, women are less likely than men to benefit from nicotine replacement therapy, which also contributes to the difficulty some women experience when trying to quit.
Smoking is a difficult habit to quit and tobacco use can lead to nicotine dependence and serious health problems. Smoking cessation can dramatically reduce the risk of health problems caused from tobacco use. Though it may require multiple intervention methods to curb dependence from chronic tobacco use, effective treatments are available. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, “there are more former smokers than current smokers,” in our country today.
Kicking the smoking habit is the most important step a smoker can take to improve the length and quality of his or her life. There are an abundance of options available to help both men and women quit their nicotine addictions.
It is also important to note that women who quit smoking relapse for different reasons than men. Weight control, stress, and negative emotions are all reasons cited by women who have relapsed and these issues need to be taken into account for any successful cessation program.
While it is important to note that the majority of tobacco smokers quit on their own without using evidence-based cessation treatments, here are some effective methods to do so recommended by CDC:
- Brief clinical interventions (i.e., when a doctor takes 10 minutes or less to deliver advice and assistance)
- Counseling (individual, group or telephone/online)
- Behavioral cessation therapies
- Medication (e.g., nicotine replacement products, and prescription and non-prescription medication including certain SSRI’s)
For women, proper weight management, emotional and psychological support should also be applied to cessation efforts and can facilitate a smoke-free lifestyle long-term. Whether male or female, smoking cessation is a challenge, but one that can be overcome and lead to tremendous improvement in one’s quality of life and overall health.
Tobacco Control, news release, May 30, 2012
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Quitting Smoking Among Adults—United States, 2001–2010. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report [serial online] 2011;60(44):1513–19 [accessed 2011 Nov 10].
Pogun S. Sex differences in brain and behavior: emphasis on nicotine, nitric oxide and place learning. Int J Psychophysiol. 2001;42(2):195-208.
Osler M, Prescott E, Godtfredsen N, Hein HO, Schnohr P. Gender and determinants of smoking cessation: a longitudinal study. Prev Med. 1999;29(1):57-62.
For more information on the Society for Women’s Health Research please contact Rachel Griffith at 202-496-5001 or Rachel@swhr.org.
Jennifer Wider, M.D., is a medical advisor for the Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR), a national non-profit organization based in Washington D.C., widely recognized as the thought leader in research on sex differences and dedicated to improving women’s health through advocacy, education, and research.
Dr. Wider is a graduate of Princeton University and received her medical degree in
1999 from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. She is frequently published in newspapers, magazines, and websites and has been a guest on the Today Show, CBS News, Fox News, Good Day New York, and a variety of cable channels. Dr. Wider hosts “Paging Dr. Wider,” a weekly segment on Sirius satellite radio for the Cosmopolitan magazine channel.
Dr. Wider is a past managing editor of the health channel at iVillage.com. She writes a monthly news service article for SWHR and is the author of the consumer health booklet “Just the Facts: What Women Need to Know about Sex Differences in Health” and the book “The Doctor’s Complete College Girls’ Health Guide: From Sex to Drugs to the Freshman Fifteen.”