Teens Battling Weight Issues Use Nicotine To Slim Down, Study Says

By John Lavitt 10/19/16

Young boys and girls who considered themselves to be “too fat” were very likely to use nicotine for weight management.

Teens Battling Weight Issues Use Nicotine To Slim Down, Study Says

A Cornell University research study has found that teens battling weight issues are not lighting up for the obvious reasons. Rather than wanting to be cool or giving in to peer pressure, teenagers are using nicotine to lose weight.

Since nicotine is an appetite suppressant, teens who "feel too fat" believe that smoking cigarettes, vaping and even chewing Nicorette can help them control their weight and shed the unwanted extra pounds.

The study, "The Demand for Cigarettes as Derived from the Demand for Weight Loss," can be found in the journal Health Economics. A professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell, head researcher John Cawley applied his expertise to show how "at all levels of government, there is a realization that we need to find ways to stop teenagers from developing poor health habits ... One hundred years ago, what we mostly died of were infectious diseases, like tuberculosis and influenza. Now we die from our own choices.”

In a survey of U.S. teens who claimed to be frequent smokers, 46% of girls and 30% of boys said that losing and controlling weight is a major reason why they smoke. If a girl claimed to be “much too fat,” she was almost 225% more likely to be using cigarette for this reason.

In contrast, the boys who believed themselves to be "much too fat" were nearly 145% more likely to smoke for weight loss than boys who were comfortable with their weight. Still, since tobacco is the No. 1 preventable cause of death in the United States, any increase in teen smoking needs to be addressed.

Risky health behaviors are “not always just about the immediate pleasure or enjoyment; sometimes it is a means to another end," explained Cawley, an academic who has done numerous studies on the financial implications of such behaviors.

“There's a strong economic case for taxing cigarettes," said Cawley. "It's just that the taxes may not decrease consumption among girls as much as you might hope or think. But if you can break the perceived connection between smoking and weight loss, you may increase their responsiveness to taxes."

The study examined compiled data from the Health Behavior in School-aged Children survey of nearly 10,500 U.S. schoolchildren who were 11, 13 or 15 years old. While reporting their heights and weights, later used by researchers to calculate body mass indexes, participants also reported their perception of their weight.

White teens were more than twice as likely as African-American teens to smoke for weight loss. But regardless of such factors as socioeconomic status, race or sex, it is clear that breaking the connection in the mind’s eye of teens between nicotine and weight loss needs to be a priority.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.