Stopping smoking can improve mental health after a year, new research finds

New research using data from the Smoking Toolkit Study further highlights the mental health benefits of quitting smoking.

Drawing of brain in notepad surrounded by written words associated with mental health

9 January 2023

Quitting smoking can lead to improvements in mental health after a year or more of abstinence, according to a new study led by SPECTRUM researchers from University College London and King’s College London.

Survey data

The research, published in Addictive Behaviours, analysed data from over 30,000 adults in Great Britain between October 2020 and February 2022.

Data came from the Smoking Toolkit Study, a national survey collecting detailed data on smoking behaviour across Great Britain, which is funded by Cancer Research UK and SPECTRUM.

The research team examined the association of psychological distress (covering feelings of nervousness, hopelessness, restlessness, depression, ‘everything an effort’ and worthlessness) with quitting smoking, time since quitting, and the use of non-combustible nicotine products - such as nicotine patches/gums/lozenges, vapes and heated tobacco products.

Improved mental health

The study found that people who had never smoked, or those who had not smoked for over a year, had lower levels of distress compared with those who currently smoked or had quit in the past year.

This effect was found to be greater among those who had ever been diagnosed with a mental health condition.

The findings suggest that improvements in mental health following quitting smoking are most clearly seen a year after quitting. Quitting smoking could prove particularly beneficial among those ever diagnosed with a mental health condition.

In addition to the more common messaging on the benefits of quitting for heart and respiratory health, we call for additional emphasis on the longer-term benefits of quitting smoking on mental health, which might provide extra motivation to keep going with a quit attempt.

The study also found that nicotine product use among ex-smokers was associated with greater levels of distress compared with ex-smokers not using any nicotine product.

However, the researchers warn that associations with nicotine product use are likely to be confounded by nicotine dependence and therefore further investigation is needed to determine any cause.

Related links

Access the paper | Addictive Behaviours

Smoking Toolkit Study | Visit the website