The Gains and Losses of Quitting Smoking

Smoking cessation weight gain was greater in those with more intense cigarette dependence

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Weight gain can be a frustrating but common side effect of quitting smoking. How much weight a person gains may depend on how attached they were to smoking in the first place.

A recent study tracked weight gain in a group of smokers using either nicotine patches or a prescription medication to help them quit.

The results of this study showed that people who reported greater dependence on cigarettes gained more weight while they were quitting.

"Ask for help when quitting smoking."

Maki Komiyama, MD, from the National Hospital Organization Kyoto Medical Center and Osaka Medical College in Japan, led a team of researchers to study factors involved in weight gain when people quit smoking.

Health risks associated with smoking include heart disease and cancer, and quitting smoking can lower the risk of developing these diseases.

Weight gain is a common concern among people wanting to quit smoking. Previous research has shown that men typically gain around 6.2 pounds and women gain around 8.4 pounds while quitting. And more than 10 percent of people gain 28.7 pounds or more after quitting.

The weight gain associated with quitting smoking can continue to add up for around three years, and then take seven to eight years to fall back down to pre-quitting levels.

For this study, the researchers kept tabs on 132 men and 54 women, ages 22 to 81, from a Smoking Cessation Clinic at the Kyoto Medical Center from 2007 to 2011.

The smokers averaged 23.5 cigarettes per day prior to quitting.

Overall, 89 of the participants were given nicotine patches and 95 were given a varenicline (brand name Chantix) prescription. Two patients used no medication.

The researchers measured each participant’s body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels before quitting smoking and again 12 weeks later. BMI is a measure used to determine if someone is a healthy weight, underweight, overweight or obese.

The average amount of weight gained was equal among participants in the nicotine patch and varenicline groups.

The researchers asked the patients how dependent they thought they were on cigarettes. The participants responded on a scale from 0 to 10, with 0 being no dependence and 10 being severe dependence.

The researchers found that as scores on the dependence scale increased, so did the amount of weight gained after quitting. People with scores below 5 had an average BMI increase of 0.3 percent, while people with the highest scores had average BMI increases of up to 3.4 percent.

Compared to weight gain reported by people trying to quit on their own, the average weight gain of 2.4 pounds in this study was smaller, the authors wrote. 

The researchers suggested that the use of nicotine patches or prescription smoking cessation medications might have helped people limit the amount of weight they gained while quitting.

The authors noted that for people without diabetes, quitting smoking would substantially lower the risk of heart disease after four years despite weight gain.

For people with diabetes, the authors recommended that weight gain should not exceed 11 pounds.

"Gaining weight from quitting smoking is a bit of a cruel irony, perhaps, but I would never want anyone to think that potential weight gain is a reason to keep smoking. Quitting smoking is probably the best thing someone can do to improve their health. While excess weight gain isn't healthy either, that issue can be addressed moving forward as part of a treatment plan," Dr. Craig Weingrow, a primary care physician at Valhalla Medical Associates, told dailyRx News.

"This research is valuable in that it can prepare patients and their doctors about some of the challenges a quitter might face along the road to being tobacco-free," said Dr. Weingrow.

The study authors indicated that trying to get people to diet while quitting smoking may get in the way of a successful quit attempt. They recommended that future research should investigate what the best timeline would be to promote dieting during or after quitting.

This study was published in August in PLOS ONE.

The National Hospital Organization and the Pfizer Health Research Foundation provided funding for this project. Pfizer manufactures and markets varenicline as Chantix. 

Review Date: 
August 21, 2013
Last Updated:
September 5, 2013