A new study shows that nearly 90% of heavy smokers say that even though they know smoking is dangerous, they still consider cigarettes their “friend.” Researchers say that emotional bond may help explain why smokers have such a hard time quitting, even with the help of nicotine-replacement therapies. “The danger of losing a friend was more threatening to them that the dangers of smoking, and they worried what would take the place of cigarettes emotionally,” write researcher Beti Thompson, PhD, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, and colleagues. “They use smoking to comfort themselves not only in trying situations but also in situations that many people find relatively inconsequential.”
For the study, published in the December 2003 issue of Nicotine & Tobacco Research, researchers interviewed 51 heavy smokers (most were white men who smoked more than 25 cigarettes per day) about their attitudes about smoking and attempts to quit. Nearly two-thirds reported that they were physically addicted to cigarettes and more than half said the smell and taste of tobacco affected their decision to smoke. Participants also said they felt many social pressures to smoke, including pressure from the tobacco companies, family members, and smoking buddies. More than half also said that smoking relieved emotional problems and was a means to cope with stress, reduce anger, or withdraw from people or situations.
Others said social triggers got in the way of attempts to quit smoking. For example, they wondered how they could go out for a drink without smoking or couldn’t imagine giving up a cigarette at the end of a meal. On the plus side, a whopping 94% said they thought quitting would lead to improved health, but they saw giving up cigarettes as a nearly unattainable goal. “Although heavy smokers know they need to stop smoking, they feel angry that this source of physical pleasure should be taken from them,” write the researchers. “They see themselves as victims who have been duped into smoking and continued smoking.”