Yep, that’s me, age 18 or so, working hard to become a smoker. (And in case you were wondering: No, that’s not my husband; this photo was taken long before I met him.)
I was luckier than the smokers we studied in the Nicotine Research Laboratory in that I never succeeded in learning to inhale. So I never took in enough nicotine to become addicted, and eventually I decided that uncontrollable coughing fits were not exactly the image I was trying to project. As I say, I was very lucky – and believe me, it was sheer luck. I was definitely giving it my best shot!
Most smokers start when they’re in their teens. To an adolescent, the hazards seem distant and remote; smoking seems cool or sexy and the tobacco industry is happy to reinforce those notions. And sadly, many girls are seduced by the belief that smoking will help them control their weight. Although smoking does suppress appetite, and although confirmed smokers tend to gain weight when they quit, smoking is really not a very good dieting tool. We have conducted several studies of college women and found no difference in weight between smokers and nonsmokers in this age group. Rather, the weight-suppressing effects of smoking primarily emerge over time, by reducing normal adult weight gain so that eventually adult smokers weigh about ten pounds less, on average, than their nonsmoking counterparts.
Conclusion: If you are a young woman and a light or occasional smoker, and you wish to gain as little weight as possible when you quit, now would be an excellent time to stop smoking. It is far easier to quit now than it will be later, when you’re a confirmed smoker, and when you’re more likely to gain weight after quitting.
Cynthia S. Pomerleau, Ph.D., is currently research professor emerita in the University of Michigan Department of Psychiatry. From 1985 to 2009 she served as director of the Nicotine Research Laboratory, where much of her research focused on the impact of smoking on women. She is the author of more than a hundred articles and book chapters on smoking and a contributor to the 2001 Surgeon General’s Report on Women and Smoking.