Characteristics of highly physically active smokers in a population of young adult military recruits

Kenneth D. Ward, Mark W. Vander Weg, Robert C. Klesges, Kristen W. Kovach, Molly C. Elrod, Margaret DeBon, C. Keith Haddock, G. Wayne Talcott, Harry A. Lando

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


A substantial number of cigarette smokers are thought to engage in regular exercise. It is unclear why individuals who engage in a health-promoting activity such as exercising would simultaneously engage in a health-damaging behavior like smoking. Two possibilities are that (1) exercise serves as a "harm reduction" strategy to lessen the negative effects of smoking, or (2) that among weight conscious individuals, exercise and smoking are both used as weight control strategies. To examine these issues, smoking status, physical activity level, weight concerns, and several additional health behaviors and attitudes were assessed by questionnaire in a population of United States Air Force recruits (n=32,144). Multiple logistic regression analyses were used to compare characteristics of highly physically active smokers with both highly physically active never-smokers, and less active smokers. A substantial proportion of smokers reported being highly physically active (15.8%), although this proportion was significantly higher for never-smokers (22.7%). Active smokers were similar to active never-smokers across several health behaviors and attitudes, including diet, seatbelt use, and attitudes toward illegal drugs and condom use. Compared to less active smokers, active smokers consumed more fruits and vegetables, worried less about their weight, were less nicotine dependent, and had greater previous success at quitting smoking. These findings indicate that a substantial proportion of highly physically active young adults are regular cigarette smokers. Based on findings regarding general health behaviors and smoking history, this group may be particularly amenable to smoking cessation efforts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1405-1418
Number of pages14
JournalAddictive Behaviors
Issue number8
StatePublished - Oct 2003

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project was supported by a grant awarded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (HL-53478). The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect the official position of the United States Air Force Military Training, the Department of Defense, or the United States government.


  • Health behaviors
  • Military
  • Nicotine dependence
  • Physical activity
  • Smoking


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