(HealthDay News) — Fear of unhealthy weight gain can be a factor holding smokers back from quitting the habit. But a new study finds that even if people do gain a few pounds once they quit, their post-cigarette health is still much better than if they’d kept on smoking. The findings are being presented at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association (AHA), held from Nov. 15 to 19 in Chicago.

“This study is important for smokers to understand,” Patricia Folan, R.N., D.P.N., director of the Center for Tobacco Control at North Shore-LIJ Health System in Great Neck, N.Y., told HealthDay. “The weight gain that may accompany quitting smoking does not equal the overwhelming health consequences of continued smoking,” said Folan, who was not involved in the new research.

The study was led by Hisako Tsuji, M.D., of the Health Promotion Department in Osaka, Japan. Her team tracked health outcomes for 1,305 adults who quit smoking and compared them to 2,803 ongoing smokers. The participants averaged 54 years of age and were followed between 1997 and 2013. Of those who quit smoking, 362 did not gain weight, 458 gained no more than 2 kilograms (a little more than 4 pounds) and 485 gained more than 2 kilograms.

Compared to people who kept on smoking, the risk of dying over the study period was still 34 percent lower among quitters who did not gain weight, 49 percent lower among those who gained no more than 2 kilograms, and 26 percent lower among those who gained more than 2 kilograms. “Quitters had a significantly lower risk of death compared to smokers regardless of their weight change after they stopped smoking,” Tsuji said in an AHA news release.

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