Hong Kong's growing numbers of female smokers need a different approach than men to help them quit, the Council on Smoking and Health said yesterday after a survey showed cigarettes served as an emotional crutch for many women.
Stress, sadness, boredom and peer pressure were some of the psychological reasons for smoking cited by women in the survey carried out by Dr William Li Ho-cheung, of the University of Hong Kong's School of Nursing.
"We found that many women smoke because of psychological factors," said Li yesterday. "To target women in smoke cessation, we need to help them tackle negative emotions and psychological problems."
In contrast, said Professor Lam Tai-hing, community medicine chair professor at the university, nicotine reliance was the main difficulty faced by men trying to quit.
Moreover, women sometimes felt uncomfortable surrounded by men in stop-smoking sessions and would be more comfortable talking to woman counsellors, he added.
Both Lam and council chairwoman Lisa Lau Man-man called for more government resources to specifically help women smokers to quit.
While women are still much less likely to smoke than men, their numbers have risen 70 per cent since 1990 - from 56,100 to 96,800. Over the same period, the number of male smokers fell nearly 14 per cent - from 635,800 to 548,200.
Researchers talked to 73 women in focus groups in 2010 and interviewed 3,306 in 2012 - including 765 smokers, 509 ex-smokers with the remainder who have never smoked.
Those in the focus groups knew about the general health risks of smoking such as cancer and heart disease but not that it could cause premature skin ageing, higher rates of infertility and early menopause.
Some feared gaining weight if they stopped smoking.
In the 2012 survey, 45 per cent said curiosity was the main reason they started to smoke; 37 per cent cited peer pressure; 8 per cent blamed boredom or depression; and 5 per cent saw it as a way to reduce stress.