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Quitting smoking helps to improve mental health

Robust evidence about the effects of quitting smoking on mental health has been provided in a new study.

© Denis Charlet, AFP
© Denis Charlet, AFP

A new Oxford University study shows that quitting smoking can improve mental health. The findings should be of benefit to smokers and clinicians.

The cohort study provides evidence that quitting smoking can lead to improved mental health outcomes among people with and without mental health disorders. Specifically, the research shows that smoking abstinence between weeks nine and 24 is associated with significant improvements in anxiety and depression scores (using established psychological tests).

The study employed analytical approaches to assess changes in mental health following smoking cessation. The data was drawn from a large, randomized clinical trial called the ‘Evaluating Adverse Events in a Global Smoking Cessation Study (EAGLES)’, which drew on results from across 16 countries at 140 centres. The data related to the time period 2011 and 2015.

With the information, only data from U.S.-based participants were used for the secondary analysis. The study selected adults with or without a psychiatric disorder who smoked. A total of 4,260 participants were included in the analysis, with 55.4 percent having a history of mental illness.

Three statistical approaches were used to reduce confounding, which means that more robust evidence about the effects of quitting smoking on mental health was provided. This showed that quitting smoking will not worsen and may improve mental health outcomes.

According to Angela Wu, lead author and Researcher in the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford: “While we are seeing a large decrease of smoking rates over the years in the UK for the general population this is not the case for people living with mental health conditions.”

Wu adds: “The number of people smoking who also have a mental health condition has remained the same since 1993 (approximately 40%). We hope our results can help motivate policymakers and stakeholders to better support smoking cessation in people with mental health conditions.”

The findings were released on World No Tobacco Day, an annual event held on 31 May each year. This is a World Health Organization (WHO) led initiative. The primary objective of World No Tobacco Day is to raise awareness about the health risks associated with tobacco use and advocate for effective policies to reduce tobacco consumption worldwide.

Smoking is the global leading cause of preventable illnesses and deaths, with nearly half of all smokers dying from a smoking-related disease. Despite expressing a desire to quit, many smokers continue because they perceive smoking as a means of alleviating stress and providing other psychological benefits.

The notion that cigarettes have a calming effect is pervasive, and it stands that some healthcare professionals may dissuade individuals with mental health disorders from attempting to quit due to concerns about potential worsening of their mental well-being. The new results should help challenge this misassumption.

The research findings have been published in the journal JAMA Network Open, titled “Smoking Cessation and Changes in Anxiety and Depression in Adults With and Without Psychiatric Disorders.”

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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