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Econ Hum Biol. 2009 Dec;7(3):334-50. doi: 10.1016/j.ehb.2009.07.003. Epub 2009 Jul 21.

Does smoking affect body weight and obesity in China?

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  • 1Department of Health Systems, Management, and Policy, Colorado School of Public Health, University of Colorado Denver, Aurora, CO 80045, USA.


An inverse relationship between smoking and body weight has been documented in the medical literature, but the effect of cigarette smoking on obesity remains inconclusive. In addition, the evidence is mixed on whether rising obesity rates are an unintended consequence of successful anti-smoking policies. This study re-examines these relationships using data from China, the largest consumer and manufacturer of tobacco in the world that is also experiencing a steady rise in obesity rates. We focus on the impact of the total number of cigarettes smoked per day on individuals' body mass index (BMI) and on the likelihood of being overweight and obese. Instrumental variables estimation is used to correct for the endogeneity of cigarette smoking. We find a moderate negative and significant relationship between cigarette smoking and BMI. Smoking is also negatively related to being overweight and obese, but the marginal effects are small and statistically insignificant for being obese. Quantile regression analyses reveal that the association between smoking and BMI is quite weak among subjects whose BMIs are at the high end of the distribution but are considerably stronger among subjects in the healthy weight range. Ordered probit regression analyses also confirm these findings. Our results thus reconcile an inverse average effect of smoking on body weight with the absence of any significant effect on obesity. From a policy perspective these findings suggest that, while smoking cessation may lead to moderate weight gain among subjects of healthy weight, the effects on obese subjects are modest and should not be expected to lead to a large increase in obesity prevalence rates.

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