No convincing evidence that men are better at quitting smoking than women
[Dispelling myths about gender differences in smoking cessation; population data from the USA, Canada, and Britain Online First doi: 10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2011-050279]
There is “no convincing evidence” that men are better than women at quitting smoking, finds research published online in Tobacco Control.
It has been claimed that women are less likely to give up smoking successfully, which, if true, would have important implications for strategies aimed to help curb smoking, say the authors.
The idea of a gender difference has largely been fostered by trial data on smoking cessation aids, which show higher quit rates among men.
The authors used data collected from major national surveys carried out in 2006-7, which captured data on more than 102,000 smokers.
The surveys included the US Tobacco Use Supplement to the Current Population Survey; the Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey; and the UK General Household Survey.
The results indicated similar and consistent patterns across all three countries.
Below the age of 50, women were more likely than men to successfully give up smoking. And this was particularly evident among those in their 20s and 30s.
But among older age groups, it was the other way round, with men over the age of 60 more likely to give up smoking than women, although this may simply reflect higher death rates from smoking in older men, suggest the authors.
When quit rates excluded those continuing users of smokeless tobacco, and included those who had given up smoking for more than a year, the proportion of women who quit was higher in the US and Canada.
The rates were just over 50% among women compared with just over 46.5% in men in the US and just over 46% compared with just over 43% in Canada. No such figures were available for Britain.
But when analysed across all the age groups, in each of the locations, there was a discernible difference between the sexes in success rates for quitting smoking only in the US.
The discrepancies between trial data and the survey findings might be explained by the fact that most successful quitters don’t seek formal help, and that men are less likely than women to enrol in treatment programmes. And young women tend to be under represented in clinical trials, say the authors.
Whatever the explanation, it is best to use evidence from the general population rather than from the atypical examples of clinical trials, say the authors.
“Our study has found convincing evidence that men in general are not more likely to quit smoking successfully than women. The myth of female disadvantage at quitting smoking is bad, first and foremost, for women,” who may be tempted to believe it, write the authors.
But is also bad for men, who may think they have an unfair advantage, and bad for healthcare professionals and policy makers aiming to help people quit, they add.
And they conclude: “It is bad for gender stereotypes in a world where inaccurate stereotypes are rife...It is time to put aside the idea that women are less successful than men at giving up smoking.”