Cigarettes as Weight Control

We’ve noted before that the U.S. decline in smoking (among teens as well as adults) has likely contributed to the rise in obesity. In a new working paper (gated), John Cawley and Stephanie von Hinke Kessler Scholder consider the degree to which smoking is a conscious effort to avoid weight gain:

We provide new evidence on the extent to which the demand for cigarettes is derived from the demand for weight control (i.e. weight loss or avoidance of weight gain).  We utilize nationally representative data [the Health Behavior in School-Aged Children (HBSC) and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES)] that provide the most direct evidence to date on this question:  individuals are directly asked whether they smoke to control their weight.  We find that, among teenagers who smoke frequently, 46% of girls and 30% of boys are smoking in part to control their weight.  This practice is significantly more common among youths who describe themselves as too fat than those who describe themselves as about the right weight.

The derived demand for cigarettes has important implications for tax policy.  Under reasonable assumptions, the demand for cigarettes is less price elastic among those who smoke for weight control.  Thus, taxes on cigarettes will result in less behavior change (but more revenue collection and less deadweight loss) among those for whom the demand for cigarettes is a derived demand.  Public health efforts to reduce smoking initiation and encourage cessation may wish to design campaigns to alter the derived nature of cigarette demand, especially among adolescent girls.

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  1. Eric M. Jones says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  2. frankenduf says:

    “are smoking in part to control their weight”- the other part is they’re addicted

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  3. Alan says:

    Leading questions often result in the response one expects. Neutral, open-ended questions may elicit answers that differ from the premise.

    “[I]ndividuals are directly asked whether they smoke to control their weight.” The wording of the “question” provides the respondents with (perhaps) the answer the researcher desires or expects.

    A neutral way to ask the question that likely result in different answers. “Are there reasons that you choose to smoke?” “Do you have a goal in smoking?” “Why do you smoke?”

    It is likely smoking and/or overeating are maladaptive behaviors that may result from many different issues.

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  4. Jordan N. says:

    Could be a case of correlation not indicative of causality. The perception in my young mind is “everyone” used to smoke and now, “everyone” is obese. Glad someone is looking into it!

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  5. aditya says:

    My experience is that smokers tend to eat less which obviously results in loss of weight, on the other hand when someone tries to quit smoking, one of the withdrawal symptoms is to eat contantly…resulting in putting on few pounds immediately…

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  6. Tony Palazzolo says:

    When people quit smoking they tend to gain weight. Nicotine is a stimulant and increases your metabolism a few hundred calories a day.

    I’ve known people that have had serious surgery for weight loss. As with all medical procedures there are side affects that need to be considered. Funny thing is that a non-smoker who is obese may be far better off taking up smoking then having parts of your gut removed for weight loss.

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  7. Blair Kingsland says:

    Using tobacco (smoking cigarettes) is an effective population control, too. Although likely not intentionally.

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    • brian warden says:

      No it’s not, cigarettes take way too long to kill a person, shaving maybe ten years off a life.

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      • Blair Kingsland says:

        Smoking at least reduces the senior population, and a large proportion of lifetime healthcare costs.

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  8. Purckle says:

    If we agree that the nicotine, as well as the act of smoking instead of snacking, are the 2 most important factors in suppressing weight gain with cigarettes then e-cigarettes could possibly tip the benefit-cost question in favour of smoking (or in this case vaping). Do you agree?

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