Several avenues of research now indicate that men and women differ in their smoking behaviors. For instance, women smoke fewer cigarettes per day, tend to use cigarettes with lower nicotine content, and do not inhale as deeply as men. However, it is unclear whether this is due to differences in sensitivity to nicotine or other factors that affect women differently, such as social factors or the sensory aspects of smoking.
The number of smokers in the United States declined in the 1970s and 1980s, remained relatively stable throughout the 1990s, and declined further through the early 2000s. Because this decline in smoking was greater among men than women, the prevalence of smoking is only slightly higher for men today than it is for women. Several factors appear to be contributing to this narrowing gender gap, including women being less likely than men to quit.
Large-scale smoking cessation trials show that women are less likely to initiate quitting and may be more likely to relapse if they do quit. In cessation programs using nicotine replacement methods, such as the patch or gum, the nicotine does not seem to reduce craving as effectively for women as for men. Other factors that may contribute to women’s difficulty with quitting are that withdrawal may be more intense for women or that women are more concerned about weight gain.
Although postcessation weight gain is typically modest (about 5–10 pounds), concerns about this may be an obstacle to treatment success. In fact, NIDA research has found that when women’s weight concerns were addressed during cognitive-behavioral therapy, they were more successful at quitting than women who were in a program designed only to attenuate postcessation weight gain. Other NIDA researchers have found that medications used for smoking cessation, such as bupropion and naltrexone, can also attenuate postcessation weight gain and could become an additional strategy for enhancing treatment success.
It is important for treatment professionals to be aware that standard regimens may have to be adjusted to compensate for gender differences in nicotine sensitivity and in other related factors that contribute to continued smoking.
This series of reports simplifies the science of research findings for the educated lay public, legislators, educational groups, and practitioners. The series reports on research findings of national interest.
As a result of scientific research, we know that addiction is a disease that affects both brain and behavior.