Is smoking affected by gender?

14 March 2013

A predilection to smoking may be driven by gender, according to a new study. Research commissioned to mark National No Smoking Day showed that men and women smoke for different reasons, insight which may prove valuable when attempting to stop the practice in patients.

The survey revealed that while men smoke for fun, women light up to calm their nerves.

Fifty-six per cent of males claim that they smoke the most when out with friends, compared to just 48 per cent of women. This suggests that smoking is considered to be more socially acceptable among men.

Female smoking patterns were also found to be related to stress, with 33 per cent of women stating they light up when under pressure.

However, smoking as a result of emotional strain isn't just common in females and the survey found that 55 per cent of smokers developed the habit because of psychological reasons.

Nonetheless, the desire to quit is arguably stronger in women, with two-thirds admitting that they have tried to stop smoking up to six times, compared to 54 per cent of males.

Jo Hemmings, a behavioural psychologist, said: "This divided behaviour suggests that smoking is seen as more socially acceptable for men. This is surprising, particularly in the modern day, and could be indicative that women potentially attribute an element of shame to their smoking behaviour.

"‘As women are more likely to smoke alone as a coping mechanism, when compared to men, the psychological effects of nicotine addiction become more accelerated – if having a cigarette is a 'reward' for overcoming stress or anxiety, becoming dependent on that stress reward cycle is a much faster process."

She added that one of the main problems with smoking is that the behavioural triggers become embedded in everyday life and the act becomes an auto-response.

Consequently, breaking the habit can be difficult, despite constant health warnings and increased risks of cancer diagnosis and respiratory complications.

However, not all experts are convinced that the choice to stop smoking lies entirely in the hands of the smoker.

Research from the University of Cambridge revealed that cigarette packaging plays a huge role in encouraging smoking. In fact, introducing plain cartons would reduce the number adult smokers in the UK by one percentage point after two years.

The number of children trying to smoke would also fall by three percentage points from 27 per cent to 24 per cent.

Nonetheless, there is yet to be any quantifiable evidence that such claims are true. While Australia is the first country to introduce plain packaging, it only did so in December 2012 and the policy hasn't had time to produce any significant results.

Despite this, experts are confident that packaging plays a significant part in getting people hooked on the habit, especially among children. They claim that current packaging creates brand identification and supports social norms.

But even with plain packaging, the question remains how society can address the psychological issues that drive people to smoking. This will require a closer look at daily routines and common stresses that help to turn the habit into an auto-response.

Posted by Jeanette Royston

Health News is provided by Adfero in collaboration with Spire Healthcare. Please note that all copy above is ©Adfero Ltd. and does not reflect views or opinions of Spire Healthcare unless explicitly stated. Additional comments on the page from individual Spire consultants do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other consultants or Spire Healthcare.

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