Cosmetic surgery actually helps people quit smoking

You may kick butt for good after having cosmetic surgery. (Photo: Getty Images)
You may kick butt for good after having cosmetic surgery. (Photo: Getty Images)

It’s no secret that it’s hard to quit smoking, and many people who want to break the habit struggle to do so. But new research has found there might be one surprising method that actually works: plastic surgery.

The link seems random, but it’s not. Smokers who want to undergo plastic surgery are generally advised by their doctors to stop smoking for at least two weeks before their procedure. And, according to a long-term follow-up study published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, many patients end up continuing not to smoke, or at least smoke less, in the years after their surgery.

The study included 85 patients who were smokers when they were evaluated for plastic surgery. Five years after the surgery, 47 of those patients (most of whom were women, with an average age of 40) responded to a follow-up survey. The most common procedures were a tummy tuck, breast lift, and face-lift. After excluding five “social” smokers, the survey included 42 people who reported being daily smokers before cosmetic surgery.

In the follow-up, about 40 percent of those patients said they no longer smoked on a daily basis, and nearly 25 percent had not smoked at all since their surgery. Also worth noting: Most people said they had reduced their smoking habit by some amount, and 70 percent said that discussing their increased surgical risks with the plastic surgeon positively affected their ability to quit or reduce smoking.

But half of the patients said they kept on smoking before their surgery, even though they were advised not to, and nearly a quarter said they continued to smoke up to the day of their procedure. The complication rate was higher in those patients — 24 percent of them had post-surgical issues, as opposed to 14 percent of patients who stopped smoking. Serious wound-healing complications also occurred in two people, both of whom kept smoking before their procedure.

“I think perhaps what we saw with our study is the power of targeted messaging when trying to promote healthy lifestyle behaviors in patients,” the lead author of the study, Aaron C. Van Slyke, MD, of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, tells Yahoo Beauty. “We showed that specifically discussing the adverse effects of smoking on the patient’s surgical outcome was more influential in helping patients quit smoking than a discussion around the general negative effects of smoking on their health.”

He continues: “In addition to this, as plastic surgeons, patients often present to us with concerns about quality of life and appearance. As such, these patients may therefore be more receptive to learning about smoking and other health issues that can impact their future. This might allow plastic surgeons to be more effective at promoting healthy lifestyle modifications that extend well beyond the surgeon-patient interactions during cosmetic surgery.”

Plastic surgeons usually advise their patients to stop smoking before a procedure because the nicotine in cigarettes affects the small blood vessels of the skin, increasing the risk of complications, plastic surgeon Jacob D. Steiger, MD, of Steiger Facial Plastic Surgery, tells Yahoo Beauty. “People who smoke thus have a higher risk of healing issues because the blood flow can be diminished,” he explains.

Continuing to smoke when you’ve been advised not to before a procedure can give you a three-times-greater risk of healing issues after surgery, especially when it comes to cosmetic surgeries like face-lifts, Steiger says.

The phenomenon of plastic surgery prompting people to quit smoking isn’t unique to this study. Steiger says he’s seen it in his practice too. “Most people stop smoking before surgery and continue to be smoke-free afterwards,” he says. “This is a huge benefit to both their health and appearance.”

Obviously, you shouldn’t have plastic surgery just so you can quit smoking. But if you’re interested in plastic surgery and have been looking for a way to kick the habit, it’s good to know that there could be an added benefit to going under the knife.

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