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Death by lung cancer or by diabetes? The unintended consequences of quitting smoking

F. Todeschini, Jose Labeaga and Sergi Jimenez-Martin ()

Health, Econometrics and Data Group (HEDG) Working Papers from HEDG, c/o Department of Economics, University of York

Abstract: In this paper we study one potential unintended consequences that the US anti-smoking campaign might have had: an increase in the average weight of the population. To these ends, we use data from the Behavioral Risk Factors Surveillance System, a large series of independent representative cross-sectional surveys. We construct a synthetic panel that allows us to control for unobserved heterogeneity and we exploit the exogenous changes in taxes and regulations to instrument the endogenous decision to give up the habit of smoking. Our estimates, are very close to estimates issued in the ’90s by the US Department of Health, and indicate that a 10% decrease in the incidence of smoking leads to an average weight increase of 2.2 to 3 pounds, depending on choice of specification. In addition, we find evidence that the effect overshoots in the short run, although a significant part remains even after two years. However, when we split the sample between men and women, we only find a significant effect for men. Finally, the implicit elasticity of quitting smoking to the probability of becoming obese is calculated at 0.58. This implies that the cost to society from reducing the incidence of smoking is $0.6 billions larger than previously estimated, although the benefit is still positive.

Date: 2010-07
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