Women may find it harder to give up cigarettes than men do, according to a review of scientific literature on the subject.
“It isn’t a case of one-size-fits-all in terms of [smoking cessation] treatment,” says review author Kenneth A. Perkins, PhD, professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in Pennsylvania. “A lot smokers are different and they may have their own particular obstacles to overcome.”
For women, Perkins says the hurdles may have many causes. In his review, he found:
- Nicotine replacement therapies such as nicotine gum and the patch may not be as effective for women as they are for men.
- Women may be more concerned about weight gain as a result of quitting smoking than men are.
- Many medications are not appropriate for pregnant or breast-feeding women who want to quit the habit.
- More women than men have a history of depression, which has been shown to be a significant obstacle for women trying to give up cigarettes.
- Husbands may provide less effective support for their wives who want to quit, compared to the support wives give their husbands.
- Women may be more sensitive to environmental triggers to smoking, such as lighting up when in a particular mood, when with friends, or after a drink.
But it’s not all bad news for women. The review suggests that a particular antidepressant could be a powerful aid for women because it may help improve negative moods that could trigger smoking relapse.
“A few antidepressant medications that have also been tried for smoking cessation haven’t been very effective at all, and haven’t necessarily shown better outcome in women than men,” says Perkins. “A big exception there is Zyban.”
Zyban (bupropion) was approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a stop-smoking aid in May 1997. The drug was first approved as an antidepressant under the brand name Wellbutrin.
Perkins says research on Zyban as a smoking cessation aid has shown similar results for men and women. Women on placebo (dummy pills) in the same studies, however, reportedly seemed to fare worse than men on placebo, which suggests that the drug is actually more effective for women.
Amy Allina, program director for the National Women’s Health Network, says she does not know whether Zyban is more effective as a smoking cessation tool for women than for men, but she points out a possible conflict of interest. “In the financial disclosure [of the review], it reveals that Dr. Perkins received money from pharmaceutical companies including Glaxo Wellcome, which is the maker of Wellbutrin–or Zyban,” she says.
Aside from that point, Allina regards the review as a “good first step” in determining what’s known and what remains to be learned about smoking cessation for women.
The review, which appears in the May 2001 issue of the journal CNS Drugs, was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
Jack Stein, PhD, deputy director of the NIDA’s Office of Science Policy and Communication, says while the review shows that gender differences do exist, it’s important for people to keep in mind that effective treatments are available for both men and women. “We’re certainly not saying that women can’t stop [smoking],” he says. “Some of the unique differences that we’re seeing with women require us now to develop and investigate further innovative approaches to dealing with the cigarette smoking problem.”
Article By: Dulce Zamora