March 8, 2018

Helping Women Kick the Habit: Weight Control Beliefs as a Deterrent to Cessation

Today is International Women’s Day, and discussions at the World Conference on Tobacco or Health are focused on the successes and challenges of tobacco control efforts among women. In recognition of this day, we would like to highlight some of our past research, which focuses on weight control beliefs among women that compromise the effectiveness of tobacco control policy.

Globally, about 6% of smokers over the age of 15 are women. Approximately 1.5 million women die every year from tobacco use, and an estimated 75% of these women are living in low-and middle-income countries.

It is widely documented that smokers, especially women, smoke in order to control their weight. Similarly, a common reason to not stop smoking is the fear of gaining weight after cessation. For this reason, Tobacconomics researchers, Ce Shang and colleagues (2015) set out to determine how weight control beliefs affect quit attempts to increase the effectiveness of tobacco control policies both in HICs and LMICs. They examined longitudinal survey data from the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project (ITC Project) in order to analyze the response to tobacco control policies by gender, age and country.

By gender, the prevalence of weight control belief is about 10% higher among females than males (Shang et al., 2015). In addition, females are less responsive to tobacco control policies and less price sensitive than males. This finding was consistent among all HICs and most LMICs, with the exception of a few.

By age, in HICs, the probability of weight control belief is higher in older age groups for both males and females. On the contrary, in some LMICs, namely Mexico, China and Malaysia, female smokers in a younger age group (<40 years) have a 20% higher probability of weight control belief than in an older age group for both males and females (Shang et al., 2015).

Even though this was a significant difference in belief, Shang and colleagues (2015) found that unlike in HICs, these younger female smokers in LMICs are more receptive to change in beliefs overtime.

As a result, the authors concluded that tobacco control policies should be targeted to alleviating weight concerns among this age/gender group in LMICs to achieve a greater reduction in smoking prevalence. Research like Shang and colleagues’ can lead to more effective tobacco control policies to save the lives of women around the world.

So, on this International Women’s Day, be sure to tell a friend, “Curves are better than death by smoking on any day.”