If You're Trying To Quit Smoking, You're Better Off Alone Than With A Smoking Spouse

03/10/2015 03:10 pm ET | Updated May 10, 2015
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By Lisa Rapaport

(Reuters Health) - A smoker trying to kick the habit may be better off alone than with a spouse or partner who also smokes, a new study suggests.

"If your partner smokes, and you need to quit, it's harder to succeed than it would be if you were living alone," said Rachel Margolis, a sociology researcher at the University of Western Ontario.

Margolis and her coauthor Laura Wright mined data from 5,250 smokers ages 50 to 85 who participated in the U.S. Health and Retirement Study between 1992 and 2010. Participants were interviewed an average of about six times, over the course of about 12 years.

At the first interview, participants were on average about 56 years old and they typically smoked about 17 cigarettes a day, slightly less than a pack. Slightly more than half of the participants stopped smoking at some point during the study period.

Those who got separated or divorced had the lowest success rate for quitting smoking: 51 percent. People who stayed with a smoker had a 52 percent success rate.

About 60 percent of those who lived alone were successful at quitting. But the odds were highest, at about 68 percent, for people with a non-smoking partner or a partner who tried to quit at the same time.

To be sure, not every marriage is the same, and the authors didn't have data on the quality of relationships or the many aspects of spousal behavior that might impact attempts to quit smoking. They also didn't have enough same-sex couples to compare their success to heterosexual peers, and they couldn't tell how cohabitation stacked up against marriage.

Still, the study is part of an emerging field of research that is upending traditional notions of marriage as automatically beneficial for health, Margolis said.

"The older research was really looking at marital status and health at one point in time and taking a picture that was way too simple for our social world," she said. "One of the things this study does is look at the fact that partnership is varied, and partnership is not static."

There are many nuances to the relationships people have with their partners, as well as with friends and family, that can impact their ability to quit, said Mieke Beth Thomeer, a sociology researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

If they do quit, how well it sticks for people in relationships will depend a great deal on what's happening in the home, said Thomeer, who wasn't involved in the study.

"There's a difference between trying to quit when your partner smokes in the house and when they can't smoke in your presence," Thomeer said. "It may be that if your spouse is the only person still smoking in your life that might not be as influential as if all of your other friends still smoke."

SOURCE: The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, online February 17, 2015.

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