Could Plastic Surgery Actually Help Smokers Quit — For Good?

Photographed by Rachel Cabitt.
Quitting smoking is hard — $4.4 billion worth of hard, apparently, because that’s how much the global smoking-cessation market is estimated to be worth by 2023. Cigarette smokers who want to break the habit have a number of options to choose from, with behavioral therapy, nicotine gum and patches, hypnosis, and good old-fashioned going cold turkey among the most popular, all to varying degrees of success.
But new research identified one unexpected thing that seems to be helping people not just quit, but actually stick with it over time: cosmetic surgery.
No, doctors have not yet discovered a simple surgical procedure that effectively flips the switch in your brain that makes you want to smoke. They do, however, generally recommend that plastic-surgery patients steer clear of smoking for at least two weeks before a procedure to avoid health complications — and a study published in the Journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons found that a large percentage of those patients end up quitting in the long-term, or at least cutting back on their cigarette consumption.
The study followed 85 tummy tuck, breast lift, and facelift patients, all of whom smoked before their preoperative plastic-surgery consultations and quit two weeks before surgery. Of the daily smokers who followed up long-term (five years later, on average), over 40% reported no longer smoking on a daily basis, and almost 25% said they had not smoked at all since the operation. Overall, 57% of the patients responded that they’d reduced their cigarette consumption by any amount since their surgery.
“Given that many plastic surgeons advocate smoking cessation in patients before elective surgery, the preoperative consultation may provide a unique opportunity to promote healthy lifestyle modification and smoking cessation in the long term,” the authors of the study wrote. “Cosmetic patients are a unique subset of surgical patients, as their operation is neither urgent nor medically necessary, and there may be an underlying psychological motivation to undergo cosmetic surgery for self-improvement.”
This research is the first of its kind to investigate how elective cosmetic surgery could have a positive association with getting over the cancer sticks for good, but that doesn’t mean you should schedule a boob job as a desperate last-ditch attempt to quit. That said, if you happen to be both interested in plastic surgery and quitting smoking in equal measure, this might be your prime opportunity to kill two self-improvement birds with one doctor-recommended stone.

More from Skin Care

R29 Original Series