Stopping smoking reduces anxiety

An Habitual Assumption now up in smoke

Conventional wisdom is that cigarettes help relieve stress. Every smoker will testify to the instant, deep calming effect of their favourite brand. How could it be otherwise?

But findings from a new study challenge this assumption. The researchers followed the progress of 491 smokers who had just completed a course of nicotine replacement therapy in an effort to quit. They measured anxiety levels at baseline and 6 months later.

empty ashtray

Those who were successful in quitting had a significant drop in their anxiety scores over the 6-month period. (In those who failed to quit, anxiety scores had increased slightly by 6 months). Remarkably, successful quitters whose main reason for smoking was to cope with stress experienced the largest fall in anxiety.

The authors concluded…

People who achieve abstinence experience a marked reduction in anxiety whereas those who fail to quit experience a modest increase in the long term. These data contradict the assumption that smoking is a stress reliever, but suggest that failure of a quit attempt may generate anxiety“.

The abstract of the paper can be read here.