NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Virginia Slims Diet?

March 21, 2003

Adolescent girls concerned about their weight and body image are more likely than their peers to take up smoking cigarettes, according to researchers. And, in contrast to teen-aged boys, price is no object.

Using a nationally representative panel of adolescents, economists found that:

  • Smoking initiation is more likely among females who are overweight, who report trying to lose weight, or who describe themselves as overweight.
  • In contrast, neither objective nor subjective measures of weight predict smoking initiation by males.
  • Higher cigarette prices decrease the probability of smoking initiation among males but have no impact on female smoking initiation.

The researchers suggest that adolescents who desire to lose weight may initiate smoking as a method of appetite control.

  • Studies show that adult smokers weigh less than non-smokers, and that many teen-agers share that perception.
  • Furthermore, research consistently shows that smoking cessation by adults results in an average 4-to-7-pound weight gain.

The gender-specific differences may help explain the mixed and inconclusive evidence of the impact of price on smoking initiation found in previous literature.

Source: John Cawley, Sara Markowitz and John A. Tauras, "Lighting Up and Slimming Down: The Effects of Body Weight and Cigarette Prices on Adolescent Smoking Initiation," Working Paper No. W9561, March 2003, National Bureau of Economic Research.


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