Journal of Applied Physiology

Metabolic effects of cigarette smoking

K. A. Perkins


The inverse relationship between cigarette smoking and body weight, a potent obstacle to stopping smoking, may be due in part to effects of smoking on increasing whole body metabolism. Studies examining chronic and acute metabolic effects of smoking, as well as its constituent nicotine, are reviewed. Evidence suggests the absence of a chronic effect; most studies indicate that smokers and nonsmokers have similar resting metabolic rates (RMR) and that RMR declines very little after smoking cessation. Although an acute effect due to smoking is apparent, its magnitude is inconsistent across studies, possibly because of variability in smoke exposure or nicotine intake. In smokers at rest, the acute effect of smoking (and nicotine intake) appears to be significant but small (less than 10% of RMR) and transient (less than or equal to 30 min). However, the specific situations in which smokers tend to smoke may mediate the magnitude of this effect, inasmuch as smoking during casual physical activity may enhance it while smoking after eating may reduce it. Sympathoadrenal activation by nicotine appears to be primarily responsible for the metabolic effect of smoking, but possible contributions from nonnicotine constituents of tobacco smoke and behavioral effects of inhaling may also be important. Improved understanding of these metabolic effects may lead to better prediction and control of weight gain after smoking cessation, thus increasing the likelihood of maintaining abstinence.