Smokers may exacerbate the problem of malnutrition in developing countries because they tend to finance their habit by dipping into the family food budget, say a pair of researchers.
Steven Block and Patrick Webb, of Tufts University, have revealed that their fidning is based on a study conducted in Java, Indonesia.
They say that their findings suggest that the costs of smoking in the developing world go well beyond the immediate health risks.
The researchers surveyed 33,000 households, most of which were poor, and found that the average family with at least one smoker spent 10 percent of its already tight budget on tobacco.
They observed that 68 percent of a smoking family's budget went to food, and 22 percent for non-food, non-tobacco purchases.
On the other hand, said the researcher duo, the average non-smoking family spent 75 percent of its income on food, and 25 percent for non-food items.
"This suggests that 70 percent of the expenditures on tobacco products are financed by a reduction in food expenditures," the researchers write.
They note in their report that that decreased spending on food appeared to have real nutritional consequences for children of smokers, with the study finding that smokers' children tended to be slightly shorter for their ages than those of non-smokers.
The decrease in child nutrition associated with a parent who smokes is "an intuitive but rarely documented empirical finding," the researchers write.
The team further pointed out that the poorer nutrition in smoking families came not only because they bought less food in total, but also because the food they ate tended to be of lower quality.
They said that, compared to non-smoking families, families with a smoker were found to spend a larger budget share on rice and a smaller share on meats, fruits and vegetables, which are nutrient-rich, but more expensive.
"The combination of direct health threats from smoking coupled with the potential loss of (food) consumption among children linked to tobacco expenditure presents a development challenge of the highest order," the researchers conclude.
The study has been published in Economic Development and Cultural Change.