Quitting smoking: is it harder for women to kick the habit than men?

01 November 2019 - 00:00 By AFP Relaxnews
Women are less likely to quit smoking than men, according to new research.
Women are less likely to quit smoking than men, according to new research.
Image: iStock/martin-dm via AFP Relaxnews

New Canadian research has found that although most individuals find it tough to quit smoking, it appears to be even more difficult for women, who are half as likely to succeed as men.

Carried out by researchers at St Michael's Hospital, Toronto, the new study included 233 patients (35% female) who attended a smoking cessation clinic at the hospital at least twice between 2008 and 2018.

The participants had an average age of 56 and reported smoking an average of 18 cigarettes per day for 37 years.

To help them quit smoking, the participants all received individualised medical counselling, and if necessary, a prescription for medication such as nicotine replacement therapy (gum, lozenge, patch, inhaler, spray), bupropion and varenicline.

The findings, to be presented at the 2019 Canadian Cardiovascular Congress, showed that after six months in the programme, 25% of the participants had quit smoking and 29% had reduced the number of cigarettes smoked each day by more than 50%.

However, the researchers found that women were half as likely to quit smoking as men.

In our study, women had a higher prevalence of anxiety or depression than men, which potentially disturbed the smoking cessation process
Dr Carolina Gonzaga Carvalho

"In our study, women had a higher prevalence of anxiety or depression than men (41% versus 21%, respectively), which potentially disturbed the smoking cessation process," explains study author Dr Carolina Gonzaga Carvalho.

"Hormonal or social factors might also play a role. Our observational study cannot answer why but it speaks to the need for gender analysis and treatment specific to sex."

Participants who struggled to afford smoking cessation medications were also less likely to quit.

"Female sex and medication affordability were independent predictors of inability to quit or significantly reduce tobacco smoking," said Gonzaga Carvalho. "Previous research has shown that a policy to cover the financial costs of smoking cessation medications improves quit rates."

Two factors which appeared to increase a smoker's likelihood of quitting were attending the clinic more often and taking the medication varenicline — a finding in line with previous research, which has shown that varenicline is more effective than a placebo or other medications.

"The number of clinic visits was the strongest predictor of successfully quitting or reducing smoking," noted Gonzaga Carvalho. "This highlights the importance of these appointments, when counselling was provided, and medication was reviewed and adjusted as needed."

She also explained that, "Varenicline decreases withdrawal symptoms and may have reduced craving for nicotine among our patients, potentially reducing relapse."

"Our message to smokers is that smoking cessation is achievable with help. Get assistance and connect to a smoking cessation program, where individual needs will be assessed, and a plan to quit smoking will be developed. The sooner, the better," concluded Gonzaga Carvalho.