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Smoking can lead to social isolation and loneliness

Posted 16 Jan, 2022

A recent study in The Lancet: Relationship of smoking with current and future social isolation and loneliness: 12-year follow-up of older adults in England - The Lancet Regional Health – Europe found that older adults (50+) who smoke are more likely to become socially isolated and lonely compared with non-smokers. 

Quit Director Dr Sarah White said that this was the first study to demonstrate that smoking is associated with future social isolation and loneliness in older adults, irrespective of gender, education, ethnicity, employment, net wealth, or physical or mental illness. 

“The study highlights how wrong it is to consider smoking as a social activity. This study, coupled with other research, suggests smoking causes a vicious cycle of smoking leading to increased social isolation and social isolation then leading to increased smoking,” she said. 

“Although the study is unable to prove definitively that smoking causes social isolation and loneliness, it’s highly likely to be a significant contributor given that smoking-related illnesses reduce quality of life and, sometimes, the ability to participate in social events, that smoking is not permitted in most public places and that smoking around other people is socially unacceptable,” she said. 

The study found:

• Over time, people who smoked saw their social contact reduce, and they often became less socially engaged and lonelier, compared to non-smokers. 

• Smoking is associated with larger reductions in social contact, increases in social disengagement, which leads to an increase in loneliness over time.

“We often think about the impact of smoking on physical health, but this research tells us we need to also think about the impact of smoking on social and emotional health and wellbeing. We’re really encouraging people to think about whether smoking is contributing to their own social isolation and give the Quitline a call to have a chat about how to go about it. There’s a friendly and knowledgeable person out there to talk through a plan for anyone thinking about quitting,” said Dr White.

For more quitting advice, visit quit.org.au or call the Quitline on 13 7848 between 8am and 8pm Monday to Friday. Quitline is a culturally inclusive telephone service for all, including the LGBTIQ+ community. Aboriginal Quitline counsellors are also available.

Quitline counsellors are specially trained to help you identify your triggers (emotions, habits, or situations) and come up with simple behaviour changes that will “re-train” your brain to not rely on – or be controlled by – cigarettes.


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