Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The importance of understanding the mechanisms of tobacco addiction and those most affected by it can hardly be understated, and a new study from Austria has provided evidence that women are more affected by nicotine addiction than men. This finding shows the importance of education regarding the apparent gender differences in nicotine addiction, as well as the increased risks associated with starting smoking earlier.
Researchers from the Medical University of Vienna looked at the differences in smoking habits, patterns of use and how well nicotine is processed in men and women. The study showed that men start to smoke later than women and, more importantly, that there are differences in the times when men and women choose to smoke.
The researchers found that men tend to smoke when they’re content, whereas women choose to light up when they’re stressed. In general, addictive behaviors are often tied to things like stress (or depression and low self-esteem, for example), and if women are more inclined to smoke as a method to soothe stress, it stands to reason that the issue may be harder to address.
Women Process Nicotine More Quickly
As well as getting an earlier start and often smoking to deal with negative emotions, women’s bodies are actually faster at physiologically processing nicotine than men’s. This may lead one to believe that women would be less affected by nicotine addiction, when in reality the reverse is true, as the perceived positive effects of having a cigarette wear off more quickly. This means that women will feel the need to smoke another cigarette sooner than men and any withdrawal effects after stopping will take hold sooner than they would in men. The result is a greater level of dependence on nicotine among women.
Additionally, nicotine is known to have an impact on weight—generally contributing to weight loss—and this affects women more notably, too. This further contributes to the development of addiction because there is the additional concern that quitting smoking may result in weight gain.
Consequences of Nicotine Addiction for Women
All of these factors combine to create a higher relapse rate for women who are addicted to nicotine. The combination of factors may also lead to depression, anxiety problems and insomnia in nicotine-addicted women. These additional problems have a greater impact if the individual starts smoking earlier, and since women start a little younger than men, according to the research, this means women are more likely than men to experience these complications. This is before the physical consequences of continued smoking, such as lung cancer and coronary heart disease, are even considered.
Education on the Gender Differences in Nicotine Addiction
These issues are extremely important because they’re not widely known. The greater likelihood of smoking to cope with stress among women is of particular concern, and after learning this fact it may help women to identify the reasons they choose to light up and potentially question whether this is the best way to deal with stress. Similarly, it should be emphasized that there are physiological differences in the speed at which men and women process nicotine, hopefully serving as an additional incentive for young women to think twice before trying cigarettes.
The core message from this research is that nicotine does discriminate, and so our prevention efforts should be shifted to provide extra focus on the group at increased risk. Education isn’t a “magic bullet” with the power to stop women from taking up smoking, but the more information made readily available, the more young women will take note and refuse that first cigarette.