A recent study presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in Vancouver revealed smoking doesn’t aid weight loss in teenage girls, contrary to popular belief.
The study was led by Dr. Igor Karp, researcher at McGill University in epidemiology and biostatistics, and Dr. Louise Pilote, division director of general internal medicine at McGill University and McGill University Health Centre. It concluded teenage girls gain weight at the same rate whether they smoke or not.
For five years, 1,300 12 and 13 year old Montreal students’ smoking habits were monitored. In the survey, approximately 73 per cent of girls smoked compared to 42 per cent of boys.
“There are links between smoking and appetite,” said Chris Walsh, health education co-ordinator of Student Health Services and campus program co-ordinator for Leave The Pack Behind, a tobacco youth initiative.
“For one thing, nicotine raises your metabolism; also, smoking does help suppress your appetite, and that combination may demonstrate to some people that smoking can help you lose weight.”
“There is one study that shows women don’t usually start smoking to lose weight, but they do keep it up to keep weight off,” said Nancy Hamilton, a public health nurse at the Middlesex-London Health Unit. “This study probably refutes that.”
According to SHS, approximately 20 per cent of Western’s population smokes cigarettes regularly.
“Body image is something that affects a lot of women and people of this age group in general, so it could be a bad body image and a lack of confidence [driving them to want to lose weight],” Walsh said.
“Ultimately, it’s going to depend on each individual person as to whether or not they actually need to lose weight, but there are certainly better ways to go about it than smoking.”
“To say that women are smoking to fit a cultural representation of what it means to be an attractive woman, it speaks to so many other structures within our society, in terms of what being thin means to your status in society and of your character as a person,” said Erin Callaghan, internal relations manager of Western’s Women’s Issues Network.
The MLHU provides 10 free weeks of nicotine replacement therapy and counselling for people who started smoking to lose weight; participants must be 18 years old and can’t afford the program themselves.
Student Health Services also has resources for smokers trying to quit and for nonsmokers concerned with policy.
The new study also showed smoking stunts growth. Hamilton said the 20 to 24-year old demographic is the largest bracket of smokers, and 80 per cent of these smokers start before they are 18 years old. Because boys’ growth spurts occur later than girls’, they’re more susceptible to stunted growth.
Other smoking myths exist as well.
“Julia Roberts smoked in My Best Friend’s Wedding every time she was stressed,” Hamilton said. “This makes people think that smoking reduces stress and calms you, but over and above that, many people start again within 20 minutes of going into withdrawal because they’re so addicted.
“[Leave the Pack Behind’s] campaign for the month of October was to show that light and mild cigarettes are not actually light and mild; they have the same effects as regular cigarettes,” Walsh said.
“It’s a really sad commentary on our priorities as women, and as a society in general, to hold people to these really unrealistic standards because at the end of the day, being thin does not mean being healthy,” Callaghan said.