Public Release: 

Heavy smokers see cigarettes as 'friends'

Center for Advancing Health

Heavy smokers -- those who light up 25 times or more a day -- look to their cigarettes for comfort and companionship, according to a new study.

In-depth interviews with 51 heavy smokers in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research uncovered both anger and fear at the thought of quitting, say Beti Thompson, Ph.D., and colleagues of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

"Over 90 percent believed that even though smoking was dangerous, it was their 'friend.' The danger of losing a friend was more threatening to them than the dangers of smoking, and they worried about what would take the place of cigarettes emotionally," Thompson says.

"Although heavy smokers know they need to stop smoking, they feel angry that this source of physical pleasure should be taken from them. They see themselves as victims who have been duped into smoking and continued smoking," she adds.

Thompson and colleagues interviewed the smokers to find out what kinds of psychological traits might be linked with heavy smoking and the ability to quit. Most of the study participants were white men, ages 35 to 54, who had been smoking for nearly 25 years.

Nearly two-thirds of the participants said they were physically addicted to cigarettes. More than half said they smoked to relieve stress and anger or to keep people away.

"For many of these participants, any threat to their world -- a scolding from their boss, an argument with a spouse -- was sufficient to drive them back to smoking as a way to cope and feel better," Thompson says.

Many of the smokers had tried to quit on multiple occasions, but said social pressures, including friends and family who smoke, kept them from successfully quitting. The participants also feared withdrawal symptoms, weight gain and the loss of physical pleasure from giving up cigarettes.


The study was supported by the National Cancer Institute.


Health Behavior News Service: 202-387-2829 or
Interviews: Contact Beti Thompson at 206-667-4673 or
Nicotine & Tobacco Research: Contact Gary E. Swan, Ph.D., at 650-859-5322.

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