I still remember sitting in my friend’s car in high school, windows barely cracked, as she smoked one Marlboro Red after another. I never touched a cigarette but that smell — the combination of cigarette smoke, cinnamon gum and vanilla car freshener — will always remind me of long talks, stupid ex-boyfriends and the hubris of high schoolers when it comes to their health. But maybe that secondhand smoke affected me more than I thought.
Secondhand smoke is gross. Not only does it stink up your clothes and hair, yellow the walls in your home and make you worry over the health of your loved one doing the puffing, but it can also increase your risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases — totally unfair when you’re not even the one lighting up. Yet for all the problems smoking is known to cause, weight gain usually isn’t one of them. In fact, many people say they don’t want to give up the cigarettes because they’ll pack on the pounds. But a new study shows that this isn’t true — not for themselves but for those around them.
Researchers have found another way smoking hurts those around the smoker: Secondhand smoke makes people fatter. According to scientists at Brigham Young University in Utah, secondhand smoke releases ceramide, a lipid that slows down metabolism, causes insulin resistance and leads to weight gain. The researchers found that the effect of the smoke was magnified when combined with a high-sugar diet, something to think about since children are the group most affected by secondhand smoke and, well, kids love sugar.
Half of Americans are exposed to secondhand smoke on a daily basis, the researchers said, with 20 percent of young children living with someone who smokes, which is what makes this such a big deal. Especially since children have no control over who they live with and whether or not they’re exposed to smoke.
“[Smokers] just have to quit,” Benjamin Bikman, Ph.D., lead author of the study says. “Perhaps our research can provide added motivation as they learn about the additional harmful effects to loved ones.”
I’d say it’s also good motivation for people to steer clear of secondhand smoke when they can. There are so many things that lead to weight gain these days and this seems like one of the easier ones to avoid. It’s been decades since I allowed myself to be in an enclosed space with a smoker — not since I had to watch my grandmother with a tank of oxygen in one hand and a cigarette in the other (love you Nana!) — but now I’m even more grateful for the Clean Air Act.