"Before this study the view was that women smoked more for emotional reasons but this does not appear to be the case in the real-life setting measured in this study," said Ralph Delfino, from the University of California, Irvine, who presented his work at the American Lung Association international conference last week. "The results show that women smoke less for mood control than men and that social interactions may play a more important role in why women smoke."
In Britain 28 per cent of women and 29 per cent of men smoke. Although there has been an overall decline in smoking in the past 20 years, the number of teenage girls smoking has risen from 27 per cent in 1986 to 33 per cent in 1996.
"When it comes to helping people to quit smoking it is important to understand what is going on in their minds and their rationale for doing it," said Clive Bates, director of Action on Smoking and Health.
The study involved 25 women and 35 men, aged 18 to 42, who kept a diary over several days recording their mood and smoking behaviour. The urge to smoke was more strongly associated with anger, anxiety and alertness in men than in women. Feelings of sadness or fatigue were linked with the urge to smoke in men only. When the men smoked they felt less angry and it reduced their feelings of sadness. In women smoking was associated with feelings of happiness which were not reported by the men.
Dr Delfino believes that the findings suggest gender differences in the effect of nicotine on the central nervous system, possibly because of interactions with hormones. He believes that smoking-prevention programmes would be more successful if they were designed differently for men and women and if they targeted people according to their personality profile. "For instance, hostile people who smoke for mood-altering effects might benefit from learning how to control their anger," said Dr Delfino.
Robert West, an expert on the psychology of smoking, from St George's Hospital in London, said that research has shown men and women have different reasons for stopping.
"Men express a straightforward and quite self-oriented wish to stop for their own health, and for their own fitness. However, women are more likely to say that they want to stop for the sake of their family and children, or because of pregnancy."Reuse content