Right help key to quit success for women smokers

NEW YORK Tue Dec 16, 2008 3:07pm EST

A woman smokes a cigarette in a restaurant in Munich, December 31, 2007. REUTERS/Alexandra Beier

A woman smokes a cigarette in a restaurant in Munich, December 31, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Alexandra Beier

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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Female smokers who want to kick the habit face different challenges than men, but with the right help they can be just as successful, according to experts from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

"The problem is that there are specialists or interventionists who deal with everyone in the same manner," Dr. Ivana T. Croghan, research program coordinator at the clinic's Nicotine Dependence Center, told Reuters Health.

While research suggests women may be more likely than men to relapse after quitting, Croghan added, her own analysis of 3,000 people treated at the Mayo Clinic center found no difference between men and women in the ability to stay smoke free six months later.

Women report more troublesome symptoms of withdrawal such as depression, irritability, anxiety and lethargy than men do, Patrick Draper, a clinical social worker and tobacco treatment specialist at the clinic, told Reuters Health. Furthermore, smoking can be more of a reaction to negative emotions for women than it is for men, according to Croghan, while women may also have less faith in their ability to quit.

"Treatment specialists can actually adjust the behavioral intervention to fit those kinds of issues to help her move along," Croghan noted in an interview.

One of the most important keys to quitting smoking is to get professional help, which is often covered by health insurance, Draper and Croghan said.

The fact that nicotine patches and similar smoking cessation aids are now available over the counter may give the impression that people don't need assistance, but these medications were actually designed to be an adjunct to counseling, they pointed out. "Just putting a patch on and going about your life normally usually doesn't work real well," Draper said.

"I would encourage people who do want to use over-the-counter pharmaceutical aids to at least get some kind of counseling in there, whether it's a tobacco quit line, a self-help manual, or just going to a physician to talk," Croghan advised.

Along with professional help, there are three more key steps to smoking cessation success, Draper states in this month's issue of the Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource: Set a quit date or timeframe; choose some type of pharmaceutical smoking cessation aid; and get support from at least one friend or family member -- or even an online connection.

People should try not to get discouraged if they try to quit and fail, he adds in the newsletter; smokers typically make four to six attempts before they succeed. "People need to realize that if they have a relapse, they can learn from it."

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