Is It Harder For Women To Quit Smoking Than Men?

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Women are more likely than men to relapse on the first day of quitting smoking, according to a recent study by Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. The study included participants from 12 middle- and low-income countries, which is where about 60% of the world’s smokers live. While it’s not definitively known why it’s harder for women to quit smoking than men, the study found that:

  • Women tend to experience more withdrawal symptoms than men.
  • Women are more likely than men to seek medical treatment to quit smoking, but they receive less pharmacological treatment—and pharmacological treatment helps to manage withdrawal symptoms.
  • Women are more likely than men to start smoking as a method of weight control. When they decide to quit, they’re more concerned about gaining weight after quitting.
  • Women are more motivated by health concerns to quit smoking, and prominent health warnings on packaging reduce their odds of a one-day relapse. (Women tend to heed health warnings and take them more seriously than men.)

Overcoming Barriers To Relapsing

“Getting through the first day of quitting is really important,” says Aimee Richardson, a health coach and tobacco treatment specialist with Henry Ford Health. “Not only because that’s when you’ll experience the worst of the withdrawal symptoms, but also because getting through that first day will boost your confidence and resolve.”

Before quitting, Richardson recommends setting a quit date. Some people like to begin on Monday for a fresh start; others like to start on a weekend when they don’t have as many responsibilities. Take steps to set yourself up for success. For example:

  1. Research medications to help you quit. “There are seven different nicotine replacement therapies and medications,” says Richardson. “Ask your doctor about the options that might be most suitable for you. Smokefree.gov is also a great resource. And make sure you follow the instructions properly so the medication is most effective.”
  2. Swap smoking for exercise and a balanced diet. “Some people do gain weight after they quit smoking, but the health benefits of quitting far outweigh the five to ten pounds you might gain,” says Richardson. “Take this opportunity to make other beneficial changes—eat a healthy diet and exercise 150 minutes each week. This won’t only help control your weight after you quit, but it will also give you extra incentive to stick with it because you’ll have more energy and feel better overall.”
  3. Familiarize yourself with your smoking patterns. “Smoking becomes routine after you’ve been doing it for so long,” says Richardson. “Keep a record of when you smoke and come up with substitution habits. For example, if you always smoke when you drink coffee, swap coffee for tea. If you smoke first thing in the morning, sleep in a bit longer. If you smoke right after meals, go for a short walk after meals instead.”
  4. Find effective ways to manage stress. Stress is a smoking trigger, and studies have shown that women can be especially susceptible to relapsing due to stress, says Richardson. Find healthy ways to deal with stress, such as meditating, exercising and journaling. “Make sure that you have people around you who are encouraging and uplifting,” Richardson adds. “And get help if you need it. Combining counseling with medication is the most successful way to quit smoking.”
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Henry Ford offers free support groups and smoking cessation classes, as well as one-on-one counseling. Learn more.

Aimee Richardson, MCHES, CHWC, NCTTP, leads the health coaching program at Henry Ford Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. She is an experienced health educator and certified tobacco treatment specialist.

Categories: FeelWell