In 2001, a group of young cigarette smokers was fitted with opaque goggles and nose clips at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. After lighting up, the women in the group collectively rated their cigarettes less "satisfying" than the men did. In another study, women who sampled both standard and low-nicotine cigarettes noted less of a difference in their enjoyment and perceived nicotine intake than male participants did.
These are just a few of the research findings into what has emerged as an apparent gender gap between male and female smokers. This research suggests that men smoke mainly for the nicotine, while women tend to care about the smell and taste, the hand-to-mouth sensation, weight control, and boosting their moods.
Although no one really understands what causes these differences, experts say considering them as you implement your quitting strategy might just give you an edge.
Nicotine replacement doesnt work as well for women
The sexes have about the same rates of success with prescription smoking-cessation drugs, but studies of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), such as the patch and nicotine gum, reveal differences. NRT seems to help both men and women get through those tricky first few months without cigarettes, but after six months, women slide back into the habit at higher rates than men.
On the other hand, gender differences in smoking addiction may also account for an interesting exception to the NRT gender gap: the inhaler, the small, plastic cigarette-holder-shaped device that provides a dose of vaporized nicotine when you take a determined drag from it. In a 2001 study of 504 smokers, inhalers proved more effective for women than for men (at least in the short term), while men experienced more success with the other three options: spray, patch, and especially gum.
"Women lose both the sensory cues and the nicotine when they quit smoking," Cora Lee Wetherington, PhD, explained in a 2002 article by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), where she is the women and gender research coordinator. "Therefore, replacing those cuessomething the inhaler can do, but not the patch or gumand learning ways to avoid or cope with those cues may help more women succeed in quitting."
Women shouldn't sweat weight gain, but should consider their periods
More than half of women smokers say in studies that weight concerns are a major obstacle to quitting. Theres no surprise there, but such research suggests that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) might be especially well suited to women trying to quit because it can help them leap that psychological hurdle and accept that, yes indeed, they will probably gain some weight when they quit. A 2001 study following more than 200 women who quit smoking found that after a year, those who received CBT stayed off cigarettes at higher ratesand gained half as much weight, on averageas those who entered a weight-control program.
Women might do well to combine their CBT with a glance at their menstrual calendars as well. Studies show menstruation has a unique effect on tobacco withdrawal symptoms.
"Our work and [the work of] others have shown that women who quit in the luteal phase had more nicotine withdrawal symptoms, and [they] suggest that quitting in the follicular phase may be best," says Michele D. Levine, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
Translation: Women shouldn't exacerbate monthly moodiness (and withdrawal symptoms) by trying to quit smoking in the middle of PMS; it's best to wait until the first day after a period starts to toss those butts.