HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
November 27, 2006, Herald Journal

What’s worse, cancer or fat?


Nov. 16 was the Great American Smoke Out Day in which people were encouraged to stop smoking for at least one day. The hope is that if smokers can get through one day without nicotine, they’ll try it a second day, a third day and so on.

What makes it even more difficult to quit, though, especially for young women, is the fear of getting fat. Even if young women can get past their craving for nicotine, their fear of getting fat will still be there.

When I was in high school, people started to smoke because they thought it made them look cool and sophisticated. Many of those smokers fear quitting because they have heard afterward their weight will balloon up. However, they fear cancer and emphysema more than they fear fat, so they are more amendable to quitting anyway.

Now, high school students who start smoking use tobacco as an appetite suppressant right from the beginning. Once they become addicted, it will be even more difficult to stop than those from my generation.

I believe many young women who become addicted to methamphetimines for the same reason. They use the drug as an appetite suppressant.

Women are bombarded by the media every waking moment that they are supposed to be fashion-model-thin. Somehow health organizations must prevent smoking and educate the public about smoking risks, and at the same time overcome this fear of fat.

People seem to think being thin and a smoker is healthier than being average or overweight and a non-smoker.

Maybe health organizations would have better luck promoting how smokers will look in the future, not how they will feel. For example, do people who wear plastic tubes up their noses and drag oxygen tanks around with them look better than those who are not?

The damage from tobacco is on the inside, not outside, so emphasizing looks will be a tough row to hoe.

Also, from a young smoker’s point of view, cancer and emphysema are far in the future, while fat is an immediate threat.

Perhaps the solution to this problem is for health organizations to concentrate on women’s positive body image than on the dangers of using tobacco.