Stress Encourages Smokers To Consider Quitting, Study Shows

November 24, 1997

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Smokers may be more likely to consider quitting when they are experiencing high levels of stress, according to a study at Ohio State University.

The study showed that, contrary to popular belief, stress at home or at work heightens people’s ability to see smoking as a health risk.

“Smokers tend to smoke more when they are under stress,” said Catherine Heaney, associate professor in Ohio State’s School of Public Health, “and perhaps they experience more of the symptoms of smoking, such as persistent cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain. The increase in the severity of their symptoms seems to make them stop and think about the fact that smoking isn’t good for them.”

Heaney and Weng-Fang Chan, a recent graduate from the School of Public Health, surveyed 220 male smokers who worked in a manufacturing plant to uncover the relationship between stress and the desire to quit smoking. The study appeared in a recent issue of the Journal of Behavioral Medicine.

The workers rated their job stress and non-job stress on a scale of 1 to 5, and indicated whether they would consider participating in a worksite-sponsored smoking cessation program.

For each 1-point increase in job stress level, the likelihood that workers would intend to participate in a smoking cessation program increased by 60 percent. For each 1-point increase in non-job stress, the likelihood increased by 43 percent.

The researchers were not able to include women in this study because there were too few female smokers at the plant. Heaney added that the results might differ for women, because past research has shown that female smokers are more likely than male smokers to use smoking as an important mechanism for coping with stress.

“People intuitively think that they shouldn’t try to quit smoking when they’re under stress,” said Heaney. “After all, quitting is stressful by itself, so the last thing you need is more stress on top of that. However, if you look at quitting as a multi-step process that starts when you first begin to think about quitting, then perhaps being under stress encourages people to take that necessary first step.”

Heaney emphasized that although stress may prompt people to seriously consider quitting, it’s not likely to facilitate actual behavior change.Employers who are concerned about job stress and the health of their workers may look on times of stress as windows of opportunity to encourage workers to think about quitting, she said. But once workers are committed to smoking cessation, lower levels of stress will enhance the likelihood that they will successfully quit. Thus, smoking cessation programs that incorporate stress management techniques may be the most effective.

Ohio State University

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