The belief that smoking eases tension and stress is a myth. Until today, there are no scientific investigations supporting this claim. Just recently, a new study has found that moderate and heavy smokers who quit tobacco experienced a significant boost in well-being, which, according to the researchers, is equivalent to taking anti-depressants among people who are anxious or stressed.
Researchers from the University of Birmingham analysed 26 published investigations into the mental health of smokers. They looked at the quality of life, and levels of stress, anxiety and depression of the subjects.
The smokers were 44 years old on average and smoked between 10 and 40 cigarettes a day. These people were interviewed before they tried to give up smoking and after they attempted to quit or an average of 6 months later.
Findings suggest that those who quit smoking had reduced depression, anxiety and stress and had a more positive outlook on life compared with those who continued smoking.
Such improvement in the mental health and well-being of the participants, according to the researchers, were equal or even larger than the benefits brought by taking antidepressant medications. Furthermore, even those who suffer from psychiatric conditions had similar improvements in their mental health scores after quitting smoking.
Smoking and Mental Health Myth
The researchers, headed by Gemma Taylor of the School of Health and Population at the University of Birmingham, hoped that their findings would dispel a widespread misconception about smoking. According to her, it is a common myth that ‘smoking relieves stress’, ‘smoking helps you relax’, or ‘smoking helps you enjoy things’. The truth is that when smokers quit and break the nicotine withdrawal cycle, their mental health improves.
Furthermore, the researchers pointed out that the ‘calmness’ smokers feel after lighting up is an illusion. The sense of calm or wellbeing from a cigarette is followed immediately afterwards by classic withdrawal signs of a depressed mood, anxiety or agitation, they explained. Smokers however tend to misattribute these symptoms and blame them on stress or other factors. And because nicotine has a calming effect, they perceive that cigarettes improve their mental health.
Smoking has long been considered a big threat to public health. Latest figures from the World Health Organization (WHO) suggest that tobacco use kills 6 million people each year. And if the trend continues, it will reach 8 million by 2030. And despite the decline in smoking rates, the number of smokers today is still way higher than the number of smokers in 1980, according to a research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Tobacco use is blamed for a wide range of health problems, particularly lung cancer. It is also a leading risk factor for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, respiratory disorders and some mental health problems like dementia. Quitting smoking can significantly reduce a person’s risk of developing these life-threatening illnesses. But aside from this, stopping smoking now can also boost their mental health and well-being to a significantly higher level.