Women have a harder time trying to quit smoking than men, say health experts Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Women have a harder time trying to quit smoking than men, say health experts. 
 Speaking ahead of World No Tobacco Day on Wednesday, Dr Hanan Obaid, head of acute and chronic diseases unit at Dubai Health Authority, told XPRESS, “It is more challenging to treat women (smokers) than men because psychological factors come into play. Women have strong emotions which can act as barriers. So one has to deal with feelings in addition to addiction and behaviour.”

She said women typically need more time to quit smoking than men.

According to one study of 1,000 smokers in the West, women demonstrated a 33 per cent lower chance of successfully quitting smoking than men. The research showed that women fear gaining weight if they quit smoking. What they don’t realise is the long-term benefits of giving up the dirty habit.

Dr Rory McCarthy, clinical psychologist at the Counselling & Development Clinic, said, “Women associate smoking with a sense of equality with men.” She said this has been evident ever since the first marketing cigarette campaigns for women by western tobacco companies — whether it was during the women’s movement of the 1920s or the Second World War when women, who worked in factories while their men fought on the front lines, were shown to be smoking.

Reasons for smoking

“Women smoke for different reasons — to relieve stress, to imitate smoking parents, addictive behaviour or peer pressure and the need to be seen as someone cool,” she said, adding that these associations make it more difficult to give up smoking. However, the onset of pregnancy is a strong enough reason for many to quit, although they resume smoking six-seven months after delivery.

Tips to kick the habit

To address tobacco use and smoking cessation in women, Dr Elie Abdallah, consultant, pulmonary and sleep medicine, at Mediclinic Welcare Hospital, said he employs the 5A and 5R approach.

What this means is that a patient is asked, advised, assessed, assisted and arrangements made for regular follow-ups.

“The first step is to get the patient to admit she smokes. Once that is done, we firmly advise her on the need to give up smoking. Then comes an assessment of her willingness to give up the habit in 30 days.

If it’s a positive response, we provide assistance either through nicotine replacement therapy or the use of medications which nearly double the chances of cessation. Follow-ups are subsequently arranged at four-six week intervals.”

Dr Abdallah said it is also important to talk to patients about the 5Rs to help motivate them to give up smoking. “The five Rs include relevance, risks, rewards, roadblocks and repetition.”

As for the risks, he said smoking can affect women’s fertility and pregnancy and also cause heart attacks, strokes, lung, oral and other forms of cancer in the long run.

Women also need to be convinced about the relevance of quitting smoking for their own or their children’s benefits and be taught to address roadblocks like withdrawal symptoms, weight gain, fear of failure etc. The rewards come in the form of improved health, money savings and a cleaner environment.

Since these messages take time to sink in, repetition of the motivational intervention is equally important.