Stressed? Stop Smoking, You'll Feel Better
February 14, 2014

Stopping Smoking Provides Mental Health Benefits

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Some smokers cite additional stress as a reason not to quit smoking, but a new research review in the British Medical Journal has found evidence that shows stopping smoking actually provides mental health benefits.

The researchers claimed that the impact of quitting is equal to or greater than that seen from antidepressant treatment for mood and anxiety conditions.

"Smokers can be reassured that stopping smoking is associated with mental health benefits," wrote the British team of authors.

"This could overcome barriers that clinicians have toward intervening with smokers with mental health problems," they added. "Furthermore, challenging the widely held assumption that smoking has mental health benefits could motivate smokers to stop."

To reach their conclusion, the UK team looked at the outcomes of 26 research studies of adults that assessed mental health prior to stopping smoking as well as at least six weeks after cessation in the main population and in patients with chronic psychiatric or physical conditions. Subjects’ anxiety, depression, positivity, overall well-being, and stress were considered.

The team said that the average age of study participants was 44 years old, average cigarettes smoked was around a pack each day and subjects were followed up on for an average of 6 months.

After confounding factors related to study design and quality were factored in, the research team identified consistent data that showed stopping smoking is connected with improvements in depression, anxiety, stress, well-being, and positivity – compared to continuing to smoke. The strength of this connection was very similar for both the general and clinical communities, including people that have mental health disorders, the study team said.

“Both psychological quality of life and positive affect significantly increased between baseline and follow-up in quitters compared with continuing smokers,” the review authors wrote.  “Smoking cessation is associated with reduced depression, anxiety, and stress and improved positive mood and quality of life compared with continuing to smoke.”

Study author Gemma Taylor, a University of Birmingham researcher, told the Daily Mail that it is very important to show that stopping smoking leads to an improvement in mental health.

“Smoking rates in the general population have declined substantially over the last 40 years,” Taylor said. “However, the rates of smoking in people with mental health problems have barely changed.”

“Part of this disparity is due to the myth that stopping smoking will worsen mental health,” she added.

Patients often say to me, "Doctor, I’m too stressed to stop smoking now,” added study author Dr. Paul Aveyard, from the University of Oxford. “I hope doctors will now reassure those patients that there’s a good chance that stopping smoking will make you less stressed.”

“In fact, for people with chronic mental health problems, stopping smoking might be an effective treatment,” Aveyard said.

The new study comes after American drugstore chain CVS announced earlier this month that they would stop selling cigarettes because it is inconsistent with their purpose as a company.

"Ending the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products at CVS/pharmacy is the right thing for us to do for our customers and our company to help people on their path to better health," Larry J. Merlo, president and CEO of CVS Caremark, said in a statement.