A new study – designed to understand why people smoke and help develop more effective quitting programmes for smokers – has revealed that only half of smokers say enjoyment and coping with stress were reasons why they smoke. The new Cancer Research UK study is published in Nicotine and Tobacco Research today (Wednesday).

More than 2,100 smokers from across England were asked to choose the important reasons that kept them smoking.

Although enjoyment and stress relief were the two most commonly reported reasons there were differences among different groups of smokers.

Women were more likely to say they smoked for stress relief and were twice as likely as men to say they smoked to help control their weight. Men were more likely to report enjoyment and liking being a smoker.

Older smokers reported enjoying smoking for pleasure and liked being a smoker more than younger smokers, but were less likely to report socialising and stress relief as important motives.

Smokers who reported enjoying smoking and liking being a smoker were also less likely to have tried to quit in the past.

Dr Jenny Fidler, an author of the paper and based at Cancer Research UK’s Health behaviour Research Centre at UCL, said: “This study has shown there are key differences in motives for continued smoking. We need to look at these motives more closely to see how relevant they are when it comes to giving up smoking successfully.”

Quitting smoking can be hard but services and treatments are available that have been shown to improve the chances of quitting successfully. Smokers are four times more likely to give up for good if they get medication and professional support from NHS Stop SMoking Services than if they try to go “cold-turkey”.

Jean King, Cancer Research UK’s director of tobacco control, said: “Understanding why people smoke is vital if quit smoking programmes are to be more successful. These results highlight just how complex the nicotine addiction is for smokers – an addiction that kills half of all long term users.

“Reducing exposure to those things that can prompt smoking – like seeing tobacco advertising behind the shop counter – as well as promoting methods of quitting can also help smokers give up. Proposals to put tobacco out of sight in shops and get rid of vending machines are crucial if we are not only to protect young people from tobacco marketing but also to help more smokers stop.”


For media enquiries please call the Cancer Research UK London office on 020 7061 8300, or the out of hours’ duty press officer on 07050 264059.


Jennifer A. Fidler, & Robert West (2009). Self-perceived smoking motives and their correlates in a general population sample Nicotine & Tobacco Research DOI: 10.1093/ntr/ntp120


Download the interview with Dr Jennifer Fidler.

Which, if any, of the following are important in keeping you smoking?

Total Men Women Age 35 Age 35
I enjoy it 50.7 (1081) 55.5 (543) 46.6 (538) 45.6 (369) 53.8 (712)
It keeps my weight down 12.2 (261) 7.6 (74) 16.2 (187) 9.8 (79) 13.8 (182)
It helps me socialise 8.3 (177) 9.2 (90) 7.5 (87) 12.2 (99) 5.9 (78)
It helps my concentration 9.5 (203) 12.3 (120) 7.2 (83) 6.4 (52) 11.4 (151)
It gives me something to do 19.6 (419) 20.9 (205) 18.5 (214) 25.8 (209) 15.9 (210)
It helps me cope with stress 47.2 (1006) 37.7 (369) 55.2 (637) 51.5 (417) 44.5 (589)
It helps me combat pain 2.9 (61) 2.6 (25) 3.1 (36) 1.1 (9) 3.9 (52)
I feel bad when I try to stop 10.1 (215) 10.6 (104) 9.6 (111) 7.3 (59) 11.8 (156)
I like being a smoker 17.2 (366) 19.9 (195) 14.8 (171) 12.0 (97) 20.3 (269)
It gives me confidence 2.7 (57) 3.2 (31) 2.3 (26) 1.6 (13) 3.3 (44)
  • The NHS has a range of services on offer to help people quit smoking. These include:
  • Stop smoking groups – sessions run by health professionals for groups of smokers who want to stop. In the sessions you can find out more about ways to give up and share tips and experiences with others.
  • One to one counselling – in many areas individual counselling is available to help you give up.

To find out more about these services call the NHS Smoking Helpline on 0800 022 4 332, open 7am-11pm every day.

Quit also have a helpline with information and advice to help you give up smoking. Call 0800 00 22 00 between 9am and 9pm or e-mail [email protected].

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