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Giving up smoking actually cuts stress A study of 469 smokers who tried to quit after being hospitalised for heart disease found that those who stayed away from cigarettes for a year reported a reduction in their perceived stress levels. Stress levels were essentially unchanged among heart patients who went back to smoking, according to researchers from Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry. "Smokers often see cigarettes as a tool to manage stress, and ex-smokers sometimes return to smoking in the belief that this will help them cope with a stressful life event," said researcher Peter Hajek. Yet studies show that non-smokers tend to report lower stress levels than smokers. The reason for that difference has been unclear, but it could mean that people vulnerable to stress are more likely to take up smoking. On the other hand, smoking itself may generate long-term stress. Hajek's study found that most of the 469 smokers -- 85pc -- believed at the start of the study that smoking helped them deal with stress to some extent. Half said that the habit "very much" helped them cope. But one year later, the study participants were surveyed again at which point 41pc had not returned to smoking. On average, Hajek and his colleagues found the abstainers showed a 20pc reduction in stress levels, while patients who had gone back to smoking showed little change. The relationship between abstinence and reduced stress held up when researchers accounted for factors such as patients' age and education, and how heavily they had smoked. The researchers said the findings support the idea that dependency on cigarettes is itself a chronic source of stress. "When dependent smokers cannot smoke, as the period without cigarettes lengthens they tend to feel more and more edgy, irritable and uncomfortable," Hajek said. "A cigarette relieves this stressful state, and this is probably the main reason smokers think that smoking relieves stress."