Living Near Trees Makes It Easier to Quit Smoking

People are more likely to quit smoking when they live near green space, researchers find.

Urban park
Hou / Getty Images

Researchers keep finding reasons people should have access to nature, even just city parks. A new study suggests that living near green space is associated with a higher rate of quitting smoking.

Earlier studies have found that living near green space can help you live longer. Walking among trees is good for your well-being. Short walks around water or other blue spaces boost your mood.

The new research from the U.K. investigates whether people are less likely to smoke or more likely to stop smoking when they live in greener neighborhoods. Researchers found that rates of smoking cessation were higher when people live in areas surrounded by grass and trees.

The results are consistent with early work that suggests people have lower cravings when they’re exposed to green space, study co-author Mathew P. White, an environmental psychologist and senior lecturer at the University of Exeter Medical School, tells Treehugger

“Cravings are often associated with a desire to ameliorate mood, and a cigarette, drink, or piece of chocolate can help that — at least in the short-term,” White says.

“Loads of research suggests that exposure to nature can have a similar effect on mood, therefore if you can get that hit by walking through the trees, we think your cravings may be lower as you have effectively found another way to boost mood. Although plausible, however, there is still a lot of work to do to find real concrete support for this.”

Power of Green Space

For the study, which was published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, researchers used data gathered through the annual Health Survey for England (HSE). The survey includes information on health, lifestyle factors, and illnesses. Researchers chose to use statistics from the 2012 survey because that’s the year that had updated data on green space.

Of the 8,059 adults in the survey, just under one-fifth (19%) said they were current smokers. Fewer than half (45%) reported that they ever regularly smoked, and of those who ever smoked, more than half (58%) said they’ve given up smoking.

Researchers found that smoking prevalence decreased the greater the green space. Similarly, the rates of quitting smoking increased as green space increased.

Specifically, people living in areas with a high proportion of green space were 20% less likely to presently be smokers than those who lived in less verdant locations. For those who had been smokers, those who lived in greener neighborhoods were up to 12% more likely to successfully quit smoking.

The researchers said the findings were the same across all communities, no matter the socioeconomic status.

“This is not a socioeconomic status effect,” White says. “We thought it might just be that richer people who lived in greener areas also smoked less. But the effect was applicable to all communities. This is key for addressing health inequalities, of course.”

The authors suggest that communities can use these results to help reduce smoking. By improving access to green space, people can stay healthier.

White says, “If better maintenance of parks and support for people to use them can help improve mood and lead to less craving for substances that damage the health of the individual and place a huge burden on society (especially in times of other major health challenges!) then this has to be a good thing, right?”