NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

The Effect of Smoking on Obesity: Evidence from a Randomized Trial

Charles Courtemanche, Rusty Tchernis, Benjamin Ukert

NBER Working Paper No. 21937
Issued in January 2016
NBER Program(s):   HC   HE

This paper aims to identify the causal effect of smoking on body mass index (BMI) using data from the Lung Health Study, a randomized trial of smoking cessation treatments. Since nicotine is a metabolic stimulant and appetite suppressant, quitting or reducing smoking could lead to weight gain. Using randomized treatment assignment to instrument for smoking, we estimate that quitting smoking leads to an average long-run weight gain of 1.5-1.7 BMI units, or 11-12 pounds at the average height. These magnitudes are considerably larger than those typically estimated by studies that do not account for the endogeneity of smoking. Our results imply that the drop in smoking in recent decades explains 14% of the concurrent rise in obesity. Semi-parametric models provide evidence of a diminishing marginal effect of smoking on BMI, while subsample regressions show that the impact is largest for younger individuals, females, those with no college degree, and those with healthy baseline BMI levels.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w21937

 
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