Top Diets 2004: The Smoking Myth

Pry into the motives of young women who smoke and you often find that the rationale has to do with weight control: If I didn't smoke, I'd gain weight. Any truth to it?

Smokers often do gain weight when they quit, but is smoking itself an aid to weight control? We asked Dr. Arthur Frank, medical director of the weight-management program at George Washington University Hospital. His response: "Anyone who smokes simply as a method of weight control is a fool. As dangerous as it is to be overweight, using tobacco for weight control is a suicide gesture."

Frank says that former smokers sometimes resume smoking in hopes of losing weight they gained when they quit–and they're usually disappointed. In these cases, it's often the hand-to-mouth fixation that people are looking to satisfy.

Frank concedes that smoking "probably does increase metabolism slightly"–chiefly from the nicotine but also from the poisonous effect smoking has on metabolic enzymes. But any benefit is far outweighed by smoking's deleterious effects, he says.