Smoking fails test on lowering stress

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Smokers who say that cigarettes help them cope with stress and anxiety are misguided, and smoking itself is a major cause of stress, according to a study.

The acute nicotine withdrawal that smokers experience between cigarettes is a source of stress operating in addition to environmental or emotional factors which the smoker believes is making him or her stressed.

Dr Andy Parrott, of the Department of Psychology at East London University, studied 105 smokers. They had higher than average stress levels before smoking, but still maintained average levels of stress after a cigarette. 'Smoking simply normalises their mood state,' Dr Parrott told the conference yesterday. 'It is a myth that smoking makes them calmer.'

In another study of people who had quit smoking, stress levels after six months without cigarettes were lower than whilst smoking.

Dr Rob Briner, of Birkbeck College, London, argued that the concept of 'stress' was a modern myth which had prompted the growth of a multi-million pound industry in ways to treat it or deal with it.

People believe that stress is bad for their health but the evidence linking stress and poor health is less than convincing, he said. Stress is an imprecise term used by the medical profession and scientists when describing other emotions such as anger, frustration and depression, he said.

'However we choose to define stress it is only likely to play a very small role in overall levels of health after considering . . . factors such as poverty, diet, class, health behaviours and genetic influences.'