Smoke-Free and Fat
The health hazards of kicking the habit.
So, after all of these years of vilification, should doctors tell patients at risk for obesity to light up? Is it possible that cigarettes do more good than harm?
Please. The trail of misery, illness, and death etched by cigarettes remains unparalleled in the history of mankind. That part's simple.
What isn't simple is what to do next. A proposal: The link between obesity and not smoking is another reason for the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco, as the agency never has, despite all those surgeon general's warnings. It defies belief that, in 2005, tobacco companies are not required to specify what they put in their product. If scientists knew exactly what cigarettes consist of, they could ferret out what might be contributing to weight control. Is it the nicotine itself, which has been shown to suppress appetite (though nicotine patches don't seem to work too well)? Is it simply sucking on something all day? Or something else altogether?
Were the tobacco industry to help answer these questions, it could (maybe) start to redeem itself for decades of public-health abuse. Imagine—the industry could announce that stopping the epidemic of obesity is its new goal. I suspect, however, that the tobacco companies will keep their products in the shadows, away from scientific inquiry. They'll stick with their plans to addict Asia, Africa, and beyond. And Americans will get ever fatter.
Kent Sepkowitz is a physician in New York City who writes about medicine.
Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty. Photograph of cigarettes on the Slate home page by Salinger Igor/Northfoto.