The study, published online in the journal Tobacco Control, is the first to find that smokers who are concerned about their weight are less swayed by anti-smoking policies – such as bumps in cigarette prices, smoke-free laws or anti-tobacco messaging — than other smokers are.
“We found that concerns about weight are a significant barrier to quitting,” says lead author Ce Shang of the University of Illinois at Chicago, ”among U.K. smokers and U.S. female smokers who believe smoking helps them manage weight.”
The study findings suggest that women may need support that addresses concerns about weight gain, said Shang, who is a senior research specialist in UIC’s Institute for Health Research and Policy.
“Policymakers should take weight concerns into account to enhance the effectiveness of existing policies that promote quitting smoking,” she said.
The researchers looked at survey data from about 10,000 smokers in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Australia as part of the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project. The ITC Project conducts longitudinal surveys of smokers and tobacco users across 22 countries.
Respondents completed three surveys between 2002 and 2007 that asked questions on whether they agreed with the statement that smoking helps control weight; on their attempts to quit smoking; and on their exposure to tobacco policies such as price, anti-smoking messaging, and smoking bans at work or in public.
For female smokers who did not believe that smoking helps control weight, a 10 percent increase in cigarettes price was associated with a 6 percent rise in attempts to quit, while women who thought smoking does help control weight did not significantly increase their attempts to quit in response to a price increase. Additionally, while a 10 percent increase in exposure to anti-smoking messaging was associated with a 12 percent increase in quit attempts among those who did not hold the weight-control belief, no increase in quit attempts was reported by smokers who did so believe.
The researchers found similar patterns among smokers in the U.K., but no differences in attempts to quit that correlated to the belief about weight-control in smokers of either gender in Australia or Canada.
Shang noted that those who smoke more tobacco are more likely to be overweight than smokers who smoke less, “so the idea that smoking helps control weight is really unfounded.”
“Plus,” she said, “the health benefits that come from quitting allow for more healthy methods of weight control, such as exercise.”
Additional education on smoking and weight could be useful for programs that target women, Shang said.
UIC distinguished professor of economics Frank Chaloupka of the UIC Institute for Health Research and Policy; Geoffrey Fong of the University of Waterloo and Ontario Institute for Cancer Research; Mary Thompson of the University of Waterloo; Mohammad Siahpush of the University of Nebraska College of Public Health; and UIC graduate student William Ridgeway are co-authors on the paper.
Data collection for the ITC Project is funded by grants from R01 CA 100362 and P50 CA111236 (Roswell Park Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center, and P01 CA138389, R01 CA090955) from the National Cancer Institute; grant 045735 from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; grants 57897, 79551 and 115016 from the Canadian Institutes of Health and Research; grant 014578 from the Commonwealth Department of Health and Aging, Canadian Tobacco Control Research Initiative; grant 265903 from the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia and grant 104831-002 from the International Development Research Center. Geoffrey Fong received a Senior Investigator Award from the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research and a Prevention Scientist Award from the Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute.