Gender differences in the psychological determinants of cigarette smoking


Jean-François Etter Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine University of Geneva CMU, Case Postale CH-1211 Geneva 4 Switzerland Tel: + 41 22 70 25 919 Fax: + 41 22 702 5912 E-mail:


Aims To compare the distributions of smoking-related variables and the size of associations between these variables in men and women.

Design and participants Mail survey in 2934 daily smokers (1533 women and 1401 men) who volunteered for a smoking cessation trial. Follow-up after 7 months in 2456 people (84%).

Setting Community setting (French-speaking part of Switzerland, 1998).

Findings Women smoked less than men (18 versus 22 cigarettes per day, p < 0.001), had lower confidence in their ability to refrain from smoking, used more frequently the strategy defined as ‘coping with the temptation to smoke’ and reported more drawbacks of smoking (gender differences ranged between 0.1 and 0.3 standard deviation units on these scales). There was no gender difference in the distribution of smokers by stage of change. At follow-up, smoking cessation rates were similar in men and women (6% versus 5%, p = 0.3). Intention to quit, quit attempts in the previous year and a more frequent use of self-change strategies predicted smoking cessation and were associated with tobacco dependence in both sexes. A more frequent use by women of coping strategies suggests that some women are ‘self-restrained’ smokers who control their smoking permanently. This could explain lower smoking rates in women. The size of associations between smoking-related variables was similar in men and women.

Conclusions Even though there were gender differences in the distributions of some smoking-related variables, associations between these variables were similar in men and women. This suggests that smoking behaviour is regulated by similar psychological mechanisms in men and women.