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Woman smoking with electronic cigarette
For years now, a myth has persisted that smoking helps people, especially women, control their weight. But a new study out of the University of Illinois at Chicago is busting that misconception and revealing some trends that should make female smokers think twice about their tobacco habits.

According to the study’s lead author, Ce Shang, women in the United States who believe smoking helps control their weight are less likely than other female smokers to quit, despite higher cigarette prices and anti-smoking messages around the country.

“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,” said Shang, who is a senior research specialist in the University’s Institute for Health Research and Policy.

Researchers analyzed data from about 10,000 smokers in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia, all of whom took part in surveys conducted between 2002 and 2007.

For women who don’t believe that smoking helps control weight, the 10% increase in cigarette prices in those years was associated with just a 6% increase in attempts to quit. Yet for the portion who believe that smoking does keep weight down, there were no significant increases in attempts to quit.

Those who saw a 10% increase in anti-smoking messages were 12% more likely to attempt quitting, but only if they weren’t depending on smoking to control their weight. Again, the researchers saw no increase in attempts to quit for those using smoking to control weight despite the warnings about the dangers of cigarettes.

However, because the data is from 2007 at the latest, it could be missing a crucial smoking cessation method today, which is the use of electronic cigarettes. Those who “vape” with e-cigarettes experience fewer health risks than they would with tobacco while still getting the physical sensation of smoking.

In recent years, the use of alternative tobacco products, including the many unique vaporizers and hookahs on the market, has risen 123%. Meanwhile, with their popularity, teen smoking rates have also decreased, down 25% since last year and 42% since 2011.

No matter what smokers use, however, whether they’re tobacco cigarettes or other products, Shang warns that health officials need to take the misconception of weight loss while smoking into consideration when developing anti-smoking measures.

“Policymakers should take weight concerns into account to enhance the effectiveness of existing policies that promote quitting smoking,” Shang said.

Additionally, heavy smokers turned out to be more likely to be overweight, according to the Shang, “so the idea that smoking helps control weight is really unfounded.”

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