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Study: Strong Emotions Trigger Urge to Puff

Can't stop grabbing for your cigarettes? A new study, published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research, says strong emotions may be triggering your urge.

The study monitored 60 men and women for 2 full days, recording in diaries their locations and moods before and after smoking. It found that both men and women are twice as likely to light up when feeling anxious; both sexes also smoke to calm anger, but men more so, and both sexes use cigarettes to ease sadness. Experts say women also smoke to curb their appetite and to control their weight.

In addition, the study suggests women and men may smoke for different reasons, revealing it was women, not men, who smoked when they were happy.

But many smokers say they disagree with the study's main finding about negative emotions and smoking. Most smokers insist they are driven by addiction to nicotine and the hand-to-mouth ritual of smoking, not the emotional escape.

"I like smoking--not because I'm angry. I just like smoking," protests Joe Steria.

Dr. Elliot Wineburg, a neuropsychiatrist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine who specializes in helping the most diehard smokers quit, says the study is a good first step in better understanding behavior, but worries smokers might get the wrong message.

"One will say, ‘Well, I can't stop smoking unless I go to a shrink, unless I'm analyzed for 10 years, unless I take heavy duty anti-anxiety pills,’ and many people will say, ‘I'm not going to do that, so I just have to smoke,’" he says.

Dr. Wineberg says it is not uncommon for longtime smokers to try up to seven times before kicking the habit for good. Usually anti-anxiety drugs are not needed; he says the key to quitting is motivation and in some cases using several therapies at once, such as nicotine replacement and counseling.

Doctors say nicotine itself, while highly addictive, does little or no damage to the body; it is the smoke that is the potential killer, which is why doctors strongly recommend nicotine replacement. Some patients complain they get addicted to nicotine gum, but specialists say that's still better than smoking.

As for gender differences, Dr. Wineberg says there is no pattern that applies only to one sex. He says every smoker much be treated as an individual, but he acknowledges it is a very tough habit to break.
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