Female smokers who are worried about weight gain are less likely to attempt to quit smoking, according to a new study from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).
Survey data from about 10,000 smokers in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia suggest that women are less likely to begin the process of quitting tobacco products if they believe that smoking helps them manage their weight.
The survey data that the researchers used came from the International Tobacco Control (ITC) Policy Evaluation Project, which gathers information about smoking and tobacco use habits across 22 different countries. The results of this new study were published in the online journal Tobacco Control.
According to the survey data analyzed for this study, the effectiveness of anti-smoking policies such as cigarette taxes and media campaigns were limited among female smokers in the U.S. and the U.K. who thought that smoking was crucial to their weight control. Beliefs about weight control did not affect attempts to quit among women in Canada and Australia.
The approximately 10,000 participants in the UIC study completed three surveys between 2002 and 2007. Over the course of the study, smokers who were exposed to a 10 percent increase in anti-smoking campaign messages were 12 percent more likely to try to quit smoking, while smokers who experienced a 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes were 6 percent more likely to attempt to quit smoking.
However, women in the U.S. and the U.K. who agreed with statements that smoking helped them control their weight did not increase their attempts to quit smoking when exposed to more anti-smoking messages or to increases in the price of purchasing cigarettes.
Does Smoking Really Help to Manage Weight?
Dr. Ce Shang, lead author of the new study, notes that “the idea that smoking helps control weight is really unfounded” because people who smoke are more likely to be clinically overweight or obese than people who do not smoke.
However, the fact that quitting smoking is often associated with moderate weight gain is fairly well established by research. In fact, a 2012 study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) found that the average weight gain after quitting smoking may actually be more significant than previously thought—more than 10 pounds instead of the 6 to 7 pounds that researchers had previously estimated. What’s more, the BMJ study reported that the average female smoker considered no more than 5 pounds to be an acceptable amount to gain after quitting.
However, this does not mean that smoking is an effective long-term weight management strategy. The rapid weight gain in the months immediately after quitting is dramatic, but the long-term health impact of smoking, and in particular the cardio-pulmonary problems that are associated with smoking, may cause slower but just as significant weight gain by preventing smokers from exercising regularly. And from a health perspective, the benefits of quitting smoking significantly outweigh the risk of moderate weight gain.
Anti-Smoking Efforts Should Address Weight Gain
Nevertheless, research suggests that the association between quitting smoking and weight gain needs to be addressed in anti-smoking efforts in order for these efforts to be effective for everyone. The UIC researchers suggest that smokers, particularly women, may need more information and support about weight gain in order to help them overcome their concerns and begin the process of quitting.