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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Cigarette smoking ‘could increase risk of depression’

Embargoed until 01 June 2010

New research published today in the British Journal of Psychiatry suggests smoking could increase the risk of depression.

The study, carried out by researchers from the University of Otago in New Zealand, followed over 1,000 people. At the ages of 18, 21 and 25, the participants were asked about their smoking habits and whether they had symptoms of depression.

The researchers found a strong association between smoking and depression. People who were dependent on nicotine were more than twice as likely to have symptoms of depression as those who were not nicotine dependent.

The researchers looked at this relationship in more detail using a sophisticated statistical technique called structural equation modelling (SEM).  This analysis showed that smoking increases the risk of developing depressive symptoms, rather than people being more likely to smoke because they’re depressed.

Commenting on the results, lead researcher Professor David Fergusson said: “Our findings are consistent with the conclusion that there is a cause and effect relationship between smoking and depression, in which cigarette smoking increases the risk of developing symptoms of depression.

“The reasons for this relationship are not clear. However, it’s possible that nicotine causes changes to neurotransmitter activity in the brain, leading to an increased risk of depression.”

Professor Fergusson and colleagues do emphasise that their study does not prove that smoking causes depression, and said that the study “should be viewed as suggestive rather than definitive”. 

For further information, please contact:
Sarah Nevins
Press & Social Media Officer
Telephone: 020 3701 2543
Claire McLoughlin
Media & Communications Manager 
Telephone: 020 3701 2544
Out of hours contact number: 07860 755896



Boden JM, Fergusson DM and Horwood LJ (2010) Cigarette smoking and depression: tests of causal linkages using a longitudinal birth cohort, British Journal of Psychiatry, 196:440-446


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