21 August 2001

Smoking May Ease Anger And Anxiety

by Kate Melville

Anger or anxiety may trigger the urge to smoke in some people, according to a new study that suggests emotional smokers may have a harder time quitting.

The study also found that men are more likely to smoke when they are angry and women are more likely to smoke when they are happy.

"Anger and negative affect may trigger smoking in some people, a process that may explain the higher relapse rates following smoking cessation that have been reported for high-hostile rather than low-hostile and for depressed rather than non-depressed individuals," says the study's lead author Ralph J. Delfino, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of California, Irvine.

The study is published in the August issue of Nicotine & Tobacco Research.

Although the study included only 25 women and 35 men, the data was based on nearly 7,000 observations gathered during two 24-hour periods of continuous monitoring.

Eligible participants, defined as those who smoked at least 10 cigarettes a day and were otherwise healthy, were recruited by local newspaper advertisements.

Over the two 24-hour periods, the subjects wore monitors that measured their blood pressure approximately every 20 minutes. Every time their pressure was taken during waking hours, participants recorded their location, activity and mood states in a diary. Participants were also told to initiate blood pressure readings and write in their diary before and after smoking.

The researchers found that both men and women were more likely to smoke when they were angry, but the effect was stronger in men. Women also were more likely to smoke when they were happy, while men were not.

The subjects in this study were more likely to smoke when they were sad, with the effect stronger in men than women. Both men and women were twice as likely to smoke when anxious.

The study results also suggested that the men obtained an immediate but short-lived calming of their anger when they smoked. This may be due to metabolic effects of nicotine in the brain, says Delfino.

"Smoking-cessation and preventive interventions may require new methods that teach anger and stress management as well as broader aspects of effective emotional regulation," the researchers say.

The differences between the genders in emotional triggers of smoking should be taken into account, they say. "If smoking cues and reinforcing effects differ in men and women, smoking-cessation interventions may require some level of gender-specificity if they are to succeed."