Smoking and Weight Control: Misconceptions Abound

Belief that smoking helps weight control among women may affect willingness to quit

(RxWiki News) Do you believe smoking can help control your weight? If so, think again.

A new study of female smokers from around the world found that when women believed smoking helped with weight control, public health strategies like anti-tobacco messages had little effect. The women’s beliefs also appeared to make them less susceptible to price increases for tobacco products or smoke-free laws.

The authors of this study also found that women who smoked more were also more likely to be overweight rather than slender. These researchers said policymakers should take this issue into account when designing anti-smoking campaigns.

Philip E. McAndrew, MD, a family medicine physician and occupational health specialist at Loyola University Health System, told dailyRx News, “With this article I was made aware that some smokers believe that smoking helps with weight loss. I never thought of it that way before. I have been stuck in the idea that smokers do not quit because they do not want to gain weight, not that they smoke to lose weight."

Dr. McAndrew, who was not involved with the current study, added, "Yes, I do think that women will be interested to know that weight is a larger issue for them in the move toward smoking cessation. Smoking addiction is so very hard and to have another worry like weight control in the mix makes it tougher. It may help them consider asking their physician for dietary tips as they quit smoking. Women may realize that they should not let weight limit their chance to quit smoking.”

Dr. Ce Shang, a visiting senior research specialist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, led this study.

“We found that concerns about weight are a significant barrier to quitting among U.K. smokers and U.S. female smokers who believe smoking helps them manage weight,” Dr. Shang said in a press release.

However, Dr. Shang added, “… the idea that smoking helps control weight is really unfounded,” as research indicates that those who smoke more tobacco are more likely to be overweight than smokers who smoke less.

The study data came from 22 countries, including the US, UK, Australia and Canada.

Dr. Shang and colleagues looked at three surveys from around 10,000 smokers. Study patients were asked to complete three surveys between 2002 and 2007.

The surveys asked whether patients agreed that smoking helps in weight control. Also, study patients were asked about their attempts to quit smoking.

Finally, Dr. Shang and team asked about tobacco-related issues like price, anti-smoking messages, and smoking bans either at work or in public places. The impact of tobacco policies varied by country and women’s beliefs about the association between smoking and weight control.

In response to price increases, female smokers who did not believe tobacco helped in weight control were more likely to try to quit than those who thought smoking helped them manage their weight.

Exposure to anti-smoking messages was also less effective in getting women to quit if they believed smoking helped them with weight control. On the other hand, increased exposure to anti-smoking messages did appear to increase quit attempts in women who did not believe there was a connection between smoking and weight control.

Beliefs about the connection between smoking and weight control did not appear to affect attempts to quit among women in Australia and Canada.

This study was published in the April issue of the journal Tobacco Control.

Funding sources included the National Cancer Institute, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Canadian Institutes of Health and Research, the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia and the International Development Research Center. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
April 8, 2015