GENDER differences in smoking habits may explain why women find it more difficult to quit than men, according to a new study.
The survey of 1,000 people across the UK found female smokers light up more often alone and use cigarettes as a psychological reward for overcoming stress, while men are more likely to see smoking as a bonding activity to enjoy on a night out.
Psychologists say the results suggest women often use cigarettes as an emotional crutch, which can make it harder for them to give up smoking. One in three female smokers mainly smoke when stressed, compared with fewer than a quarter of male smokers.
Behavioural Psychologist Jo Hemmings, who studied the results, said: “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.”
The poll found that far more male smokers than women said they smoke the most when out drinking and socialising in pubs and club.
Hemmings said this highlighted the different attitudes towards smoking. “This divided behaviour suggests that smoking is seen as more socially acceptable for men,” she said. “This is surprising, particularly in the modern day, and could be indicative that women potentially attribute an element of shame to their smoking behaviour.
“This is further supported by the results, since for some women, smoking is not as enjoyable when compared to men, but rather used as a de-stressing tool.”
This month marks seven years since the introduction of the smoking ban across Scotland, at which time 25.4 per cent of Scottish adults smoked. This figure now stands at 23.3 per cent according to government statistics.
The survey, commissioned by Edinburgh-based electronic cigarette company SkyCig, examined the differing habits, behaviours and emotions that encourage smokers of both genders to continue their smoking habit.
The company’s findings suggest gender differences in attitudes to smoking may have an impact on which type of aid may be most effective in helping smokers quit.
Hemmings said: “One of the problems with smoking is that the behavioural triggers which make people reach for a cigarette have become deeply embedded in their lives, meaning that smoking is often an auto-response, rather than a conscious decision. Breaking these embedded habits can be incredibly difficult.
“These psychological factors don’t respond well to simple nicotine replacement based treatments – many smokers need the feel to have the pleasure ritual associated with lighting up – in other words, a cigarette-style prop, without the unhealthy consequences.”
Karen Mines, 45, believes stress was a direct trigger for her smoking: “I could smoke five cigarettes in ten minutes, when under a lot of stress,” she said.
After five failed attempts to quit using nicotine patches, gum and spray the mother- of-three gave up smoking nine months ago using an e-cigarette.
She said she found the ritual of picking up a cigarette at least as important as getting the nicotine hit. “It’s basically the habit of having something in your fingers and putting it to your mouth,” she said.
Anti smoking campaigners also recognise different attitudes towards smoking between women and men.
“The gender divide is something that could be addressed in helping individuals to quit,” said Sheila Duffy, Chief Executive of ASH (Acting on Smoking and Health) Scotland.
“People smoke for a range of different reasons, and have many reasons for stopping. Getting the right support is vital, and the challenge is to provide support in flexible, accessible ways to help as many smokers as possible to quit tobacco successfully.”
According to ASH, tobacco generates £940 million a year in taxes for Scotland, but smoking costs the country in the region of £1.1 billion annually.
However, Duffy called for the marketing of smoking cessation products to be monitored, because they are aimed at a vulnerable group.
She added: “E-cigarettes are relatively new products aiming at a similar consumer market to tobacco companies. While their products are much safer than tobacco, we believe there needs to be tighter regulation for these products and how they are promoted.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “Smoking cessation services are already tailored to individual needs and we will continue to work to help smokers to quit through services that help individuals manage their own health and change their behaviour.
“In particular, Smokeline can help smokers to quit by matching them to a quit method that fits with their lifestyle, including signposting to NHS smoking cessation services.”