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Smokers can lower their anxiety levels by quitting, a new study suggests. The decrease is particularly noticeable among people who used smoking to cope, instead of for pleasure.

Researchers studied 491 smokers enrolled in smoking cessation clinics in England. They received nicotine patches, and attended weekly appointments. About 22 percent had been diagnosed with mental health problems before they tried quitting, mostly anxiety and mood disorders, PsychCentral reports.

Participants’ anxiety levels were evaluated at the start of the study, and they were asked why they smoked. After six months, 14 percent were smoke free; 10 had a current psychiatric disorder. Those who were able to quit smoking had lower levels of anxiety, the researchers reported in the British Journal of Psychiatry. The decrease was most marked among those who had used smoking to cope, compared with those who smoked for pleasure.

Among study participants who began to smoke again, those who smoked for pleasure reported no change in their anxiety levels.

Those who took up smoking again to cope, as well as those with a diagnosed mental health disorder, reported an increase in anxiety.

“The commonly held belief that smoking helps relieve stress is almost certainly wrong,” noted lead author Dr. Mairtin McDermott of King’s Institute of Psychiatry in a press release. “Smokers need to understand how their experience of smoking affects them, and that in many people, smoking actually increases levels of anxiety.”

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