Smokers are about 70 per cent more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than ex-smokers and non-smokers, a study has suggested.
Researchers said quitting smoking could help people combat anxiety and depression and improve mental health as they found that levels of anxiety and depression reported by long-term ex-smokers were indistinguishable from people who have never smoked and were much lower than current smokers.
The study of nearly 6500 people over the age of 40 found that 18.3 per cent of smokers reported suffering depression and anxiety compared with 10 per cent of non-smokers and 11.3 per cent of ex-smokers.
The research, described as the first of its kind to compare the prevalence of anxiety and depression in smokers, non-smokers, and long-term ex-smokers (smokers who have quit for longer than a year), dispels the commonly-held perception that lighting up helps relieves stress, those behind it said.
Lead researcher Robert West, professor of health psychology at UCL (University College London), said: "Our study found that long-term ex-smokers have similar prevalence of anxiety and depression to non-smokers and considerably lower levels than smokers. Quitting smoking could be the key to improving not only your physical health, but your mental health, too."
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) released the findings ahead of No Smoking Day on March 11.
BHF associate medical director Dr Mike Knapton said: "There is a belief from many smokers that smoking reduces anxiety and stress, which is in turn causing many smokers to put off quitting.
"Yet, instead of aiding people to relax, smoking increases anxiety and tension. When smokers light up, the feeling of reduced stress or relaxation is temporary and is soon replaced by withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
"While smoking temporarily reduces these cravings and feelings of withdrawal - which are similar to feeling anxious or stressed - it does not reduce or treat the underlying causes of stress."
Nearly one in five UK adults smoke, according to the BHF.