Some research links smoking to weight changes. However, it may not cause weight gain directly. Quitting smoking has shown links to minimal weight gain, for various reasons.

Smoking is the most common cause of preventable death in the United States, but quitting can be challenging for many reasons. Among these is a common increase in body weight immediately after stopping.

Smoking may speed up how the body processes fat and suppress appetite, leading to weight loss or at least preventing weight gain. However, smoking causes many other changes in the body, increasing a person’s risk of various cancers, heart disease, lung problems, stroke, and other life threatening health problems.

The connection between smoking and body weight is complex. This article explains the link and how to manage possible body weight changes when quitting.

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Smoking may not directly cause weight gain. However, its ability to reduce body weight is also a myth.

According to the authors of a 2024 study, previous studies show mixed results on whether smoking has links to weight gain. Some research suggests that smoking reduces body weight by increasing metabolism, reducing appetite, and lowering the buildup of fat, but it may also reduce exercise by interfering with breathing function.

Some people with a genetic risk of obesity might also have a higher risk of smoking later in life, according to a 2018 study of over 400,000 people. Smoking also has links to a larger waist circumference, and heavier smokers risk having a higher body weight than light smokers.

However, the study cites other factors common among smokers that can also contribute to weight gain. These include a sedentary lifestyle, an unhealthy diet, and a tendency to drink alcohol. This means it is difficult to identify smoking as the sole cause of weight gain.

People who quit smoking may gain an average of 5–10 pounds (lbs). This may occur for several reasons:

  • Smoking suppresses appetite, so quitting may increase feelings of hunger and a higher calorie intake.
  • Eating can feel psychologically similar to smoking, as it uses the hands and mouth. Many people address tobacco cravings by eating more.
  • Eating can also become a stand-in for coping with stressful stimuli and other negative emotions in the absence of tobacco.
  • Smoking means that the body burns calories faster, according to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS). Stopping might mean that the body’s metabolism slows.
  • A 2021 report suggests that tobacco smoke interacts with microbes in the gut. In turn, microbes may release molecules that increase a person’s metabolism, and tobacco smoke might speed up how they extract and process energy from food. Removing tobacco smoke can slow the microbes down, increasing body weight.

A person’s weight may increase quickly after quitting, but the weight gain may not be long term. A 2018 study including data from 3,537 people found that people who gained larger amounts of weight 3 months after quitting were not likely to have gained excessive weight 1 year after quitting.

Not everyone gains weight after quitting, either. Many factors affect weight gain after quitting smoking, such as diet and movement habits.

Read 11 tips for quitting smoking.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 16 million people live with smoking-related diseases. Smoking damages almost every organ and contributes to disability and disease. It has links to the following health problems:

Smoking may also increase the risk of:

Weight gain after quitting smoking may be reversible. However, many health problems that occur as a result of continuing to smoke are not.

Read about 13 ways smoking affects the body.

People can manage changes in body weight while quitting smoking through preventive steps, such as:

  • switching out unhealthy snacks and ingredients for less calorie-dense alternatives, such as substituting ground beef or pork with ground turkey
  • changing cooking methods for healthier alternatives, such as switching from frying to baking where possible
  • avoiding large portions and avoiding increasing portion size to accommodate tiring workouts
  • increasing exercise levels to 150–300 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity weekly, which is the amount recommended in the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans from the Department of Health and Human Services
  • adding strength training to weekly workouts, which can add calorie-burning muscle that helps to use energy throughout the day

A 2018 study also found that people who use nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) might experience less weight gain after a year than those who do not. This reduces cravings by using gum, patches, inhalators, lozenges, or nasal sprays that supplement nicotine.

For those who have overweight or obesity, weight management can yield health benefits such as reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and pregnancy complications. It can also help improve energy, reduce joint pain, and improve sleep.

Exercising more can also help reduce cravings and improve the success of smoking cessation attempts, according to a 2019 review of data from over 7,000 people. The steps people take to manage weight while quitting smoking might help support a lifestyle that leaves space for healthier habits moving forward.

A healthcare professional can help support an individual on their weight loss journey while quitting smoking.

Learn more about quitting nicotine.

The following are answers to some questions people frequently ask about smoking.

Does smoking cause belly fat?

Smoking may lead to some weight loss by suppressing appetite and increasing metabolism, but it may also lead to changes in how the body distributes fat to certain areas.

For example, a 2019 review of over 65,000 men and women found links between current smoking status, a low hip circumference, and a high waist circumference. The review also highlighted that research has consistently linked smoking with a buildup of fat around the abdomen.

Does smoking cause you to retain water?

No current, reliable evidence supports a link between smoking and water retention.

Quitting smoking can lead to moderate weight gain. However, it can also help reduce a person’s risk of life threatening cancers, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and lung problems.

Smoking also has links to higher waist circumference, even though the link is less clear. It can also affect fat distribution in the body while reducing body weight. Smoking may also reduce a person’s capacity to exercise by damaging the lungs, meaning they burn fewer calories or exercise less often.

After quitting, exercising more, eating a healthy diet, and paying attention to portion sizes and ingredients in meals can help to reduce the risk of long-term excess weight gain. People can speak with a healthcare professional if they need support when quitting smoking or advice on weight management.