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Smoking Only Has One Benefit — and Even That May Not Be Real

The negative physical effects of smoking cigarettes are pretty universally acknowledged at this point, but the emotional downside of doing so is less well known. A recent Gallup-Healthways poll revealed just such a link between smoking and a series of mental health issues, including depression. Smokers report feeling fewer positive emotions like “happiness” and “laughter” than the general population does. In addition, 6% fewer smokers feel as if they are being treated with respect.

 

Smokers are more likely than non-smokers to have felt stressed the day before they answered the poll, and 26% of them have been diagnosed with depression, compared to just 15% of non-smokers. The increase in stress among smokers transcends income levels as well.

So the next time you see an actor struggling to light up because his hands are shaking from a near-breakdown — check out both “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men” for classic examples — know that it isn’t doing him any good.

But those who claim that smoking calms you down aren’t just relying on hearsay. There is indeed some medical evidence to that effect. Indeed, the calming is not just a placebo effect. A 2009 journal article found nicotine kept a lid on “negative emotions such as anger.” A study from the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida found that smoking had a “restorative effect” on one’s self-control, including the ability to control one’s anger.

So how does one reconcile the Gallup poll results with past studies? Though the existence of short-term stress relief from smoking a cigarette does seem to have some scientific backing, it’s the long-term effects of smoking that Gallup is focused on. It takes more than one drag to get almost nine out of 10 smokers to regret they ever picked up the habit. Indeed, this poll is not the first source to debunk the “myth” of cigarettes’ “calming effect.”

In other words, taking a quick cigarette break while cramming for a midterm may calm you down for a few minutes, but it isn’t actually doing you any favors in the long run. If you really want a way to breathe a little easier, go for a run (endorphins help) or meditate. 

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