Report

Smokers Can't Blow Off Stress

  • April 08, 2009
  • By Wendy Wang and Paul Taylor

Ask cigarette smokers why they light up and one answer you're likely to hear is that it relieves stress.

But if that's the goal, it's not at all clear that cigarettes deliver the goods. Half (50%) of all smokers say they "frequently" experience stress in their daily lives, compared with just 35% of those who once smoked and have now quit and 31% of those who never smoked, according to a Pew Research Center Social & Demographic Trends survey conducted June 16-July 16, 2008 among a nationally representative sample of 2,250 adults.

The finding raises as many questions as answers. Does it mean that the kinds of people who smoke are pre-disposed to stress? Does it mean that the stress relief smokers get while smoking doesn't last once they don't have a cigarette in hand? Or might it mean that the whole idea that smoking relieves stress is illusory?

Psychologists, physiologists and neuroscientists are better situated than public opinion researchers to supply answers. Nevertheless, the Pew Research survey sheds some new light on the subject by allowing for a range of comparisons among current smokers, former smokers and non-smokers on matters related to stress, happiness, health and life satisfaction.

Read the full report Smokers Can't Blow Off Stress on the Pew Research Center's Web site.