Smoking and Overeating — More Differences

Smoking has become surrounded by a lack of social tolerance that is certainly not matched by a matching intolerance for non-nutritious foods. In public places, smoking and eating are not treated the same. In an office setting, a proud new father can bring in cupcakes to be enjoyed right there on the spot, but he can’t hand out cigars to be smoked in the workplace. At the church breakfast, it is inappropriate to smoke, but very appropriate to eat strawberry shortcake. In fact, that’s the whole point, and nobody is going to censure the minister for having a second helping.

Psychotherapist David Porter cites a “lack of social support to cease smoking,” but that seems overstated. Today’s reality actually does supply incentive to quit, whether it’s from an insurance company charging a higher premium, a spouse having a meltdown, or the enforced absence of advertising for tobacco products.

Porter also points out that tobacco contains nicotine, a psychoactive central nervous system stimulant. However, while reports of psychoactive effects in food certainly exist (a dish called Pad Thai comes to mind), they are not universally convincing.

Although smoking may not be discouraged at every turn, all day long, there is certainly very little social encouragement of it. In either youth or age, the sight of someone being coaxed or coerced into smoking a cigarette is rare. Alcohol, on the other hand, sets up among its users a weird compulsion to form a tribe and insist that everyone join it. Drinkers can be real bullies about it, actually shaming and mocking others for not drinking. This rarely happens with nicotine or food.

When people fool themselves

As we have seen, food addiction is very easy to rationalize. In former days, smoking and absorbing nicotine through other delivery systems used to be a lot easier to justify. Advertisements assured us that doctors approved of it and even found reasons to recommend it. Today, dedicated smokers seem to have quieted down, and no longer make the effort to put in a good word for smoking. That ship has definitely sailed.

Whole generations of people were indoctrinated and conditioned to believe that “cigarette” and “relaxation” are synonyms. The proposition that smokers gotta smoke was not quite recognized as a right granted by Heaven, but it was negotiated into workers’ contracts. Each smoke break was a tiny license to cheat, an opportunity to gratify oneself while not making money for one’s employer. Even prisoners used to retain their smoking privileges.

Now, there is no right to smoke, but employers and penal institutions still must recognize the right to eat, and grant time and reasonable facilities for it. So, that is quite a big difference right there.

Another is the relative difficulty of making a case that obesity has any kind of widespread negative impact. On the contrary, obesity is a boon to clothing manufacturers, who can charge a lot for extra-large garments. Sure, a “passenger of size” can exasperate the flyer in the next seat, and even others on the plane.

But by and large, the people most affected by obese fellow humans are medical personnel. EMTs and nurses have to shift them onto stretchers and hospital beds. Surgeons have to figure out how to move layers of fat out of the way before starting a procedure. Except for the financials, and the setting of bad examples, it is not easy to argue that obesity really impacts the non-obese.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Tobacco Use Disorder DSM-5 305.1 (Z72.0) (F17.200),”
Photo credit: Chris Murtagh on Visualhunt/CC BY

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

Food & Health Resources