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Study suggests former smokers not just healthier than those who keep smoking, but also happier

Dec. 13, 2011

By Patricia Nicholson

Everyone – including smokers – knows that giving up cigarettes has health benefits. What hasn’t been clear is whether former smokers are happier or have a better quality of life after quitting. Findings of a new study show that there is, indeed, life after cigarettes: those who successfully quit had better quality of life, a more positive emotional state and fewer stressors than people who continued to smoke.

The study authors explain that smokers report many reasons for continuing to smoke, and often have concerns about potential negative effects of quitting. Smokers may use cigarettes to help them cope with stress, to boost their mood and to socialize. When thinking about quitting, they may fear being unable to cope with stressful situations and emotions, having strong cravings, losing social contacts, losing the pleasurable aspects of smoking, and gaining weight.

To test whether former smokers were better off than those who continued to smoke, researchers at the University of Wisconsin looked at 1,500 people who were enrolled in a clinical trial of smokers trying to quit. They compared not only the health-related quality of life, but also the overall quality of life, emotional attitudes, stressors and relationship satisfaction of those who successfully quit, and those who continued to smoke. They followed the participants for three years, assessing them at one year after quitting and three years after quitting.

Not surprisingly, people who successfully quit had significantly better health-related quality of life than those who kept smoking. But by the three-year followup, they also had better overall quality of life than smokers. The study authors note that overall quality of life decreased among all the study participants over the course of the study, but the decreases were significantly smaller in those who quit compared to those who kept smoking.

The differences between quitters and smokers in individual measures of quality of life – such as standard of living, philosophy of life, home, recreation, learning and self-regard – were significant but modest, and together resulted in a significantly better overall quality of life among quitters compared to smokers. 

Quitters also had fewer negative emotions after quitting, while the negative emotions of those who continued to smoke increased over the study period. Quitters also had fewer stressors after three years, while smokers had more stressors. There was no difference in relationship satisfaction between current and former smokers.

These results may help to reassure current smokers that giving up cigarettes won’t have a negative impact on their quality of life.

The study was published in Annals of Behavioral Medicine on Dec. 10, 2011.


Read more on smoking:

Butting out: help is available for smokers who want to quit

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  • Women's College Hospital