Study shows non-smokers have better mental health

10 March 2021
2 min read
Published:

On No Smoking Day 2021 smokers are encouraged to put smoking behind them for a brighter future. New evidence published this week shows that smokers who quit for six weeks or more are happier than those who carry on smoking. Reductions in anxiety and depression in those who quit smoking are found to be at least as great as from taking anti-depressants.

The call to quit and feel happier comes as PHE publishes new data showing smokers have poorer mental wellbeing than non-smokers. Smokers scored worse than the population as a whole on every mental wellbeing indicator in the PHE dataset with levels of anxiety and unhappiness increasing between 2019 and 2020.

In 2019, 1.6m smokers had high levels of anxiety. As anxiety increased for the whole population in 2020, this rose with 2.4m smokers reporting high levels of anxiety in 2020, an increase of 50 per cent. Smokers reporting low levels of happiness also rose, from 900,000 in 2019 to 1.3m in 2020.

At the same time a new Cochrane analysis has found that smokers who stop have better mental health than those who continue to smoke. The study found that benefits could be seen as soon as six weeks and were maintained even a number of years after stopping. The benefits to mental health were estimated to be equivalent to taking anti-depressants on improving people’s mood.

Dr Gemma Taylor, Addiction and Mental Health Group, University of Bath and lead author of the Cochrane study said, “Smokers often believe that cigarettes are the crutch they need when they feel low, but there is good reason to think that smoking is actually making them feel worse. The daily cycle of waking up with cravings, satisfying the cravings through smoking only to be back wanting another cigarette within hours has an understandable impact on how people feel. But get past the withdrawal that many smokers feel when they stop, and better mental health is on the other side.”

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health said, “After the year we’ve all had, some smokers might feel now is not the time to stop. The opposite is true, put smoking behind you and a brighter future beckons. Using nicotine replacement, whether patches gum or vapes, can help deal with any withdrawal symptoms, which last at most a matter of weeks. Be confident that once you’ve put smoking behind you not only will you be healthier and wealthier but feel happier too.”

Joanne from Devon, who quit smoking during 2020, says stopping helped her cope with the mental health impact of lockdown, “Stopping smoking has had a real impact in how I feel physically and mentally. The achievement of quitting has been empowering and I feel less anxious, something I’ve struggled with in the past. To other smoker’s out there I’d say don’t wait, stop now, it won’t be long before you can feel the difference.”

Mark Rowland, chief executive of Mental Health Foundation said, “There is a mental health crisis emerging from the pandemic and greater action is needed to prevent this. Our own 'Mental Health in the Pandemic' study has shown that since lockdown measures were implemented as many as 4m people across the UK have been smoking more to cope with the stress of the pandemic. Helping more people to stop smoking can play a role in getting the mental health of the nation back on track. We’re pleased to be supporting the call for smokers to start their next quit attempt on No Smoking Day.”