Women who have never taken a puff of a cigarette are more likely to suffer from obesity and die of its associated illnesses than their smoking counterparts, scientists have said.
Experts believe this section of society is more likely to pile on the pounds, potentially leading to serious health problems including diabetes, heart attacks and strokes.
Their research suggests declining numbers of female smokers over the past few decades may also have had a direct impact on rising weight as fewer people suppress their appetites with cigarettes.
The authors, led by Dr Laurence Gruer from NHS Health Scotland, reviewed the cases of 3,613 women who never smoked.
The group, recruited in Scotland between 1972 and 1976 when aged 45-64, was monitored for 28 years.
The results showed those who never touched tobacco were more likely to be overweight or obese than their fellow smokers -- 60pc against 40pc -- with the extra weight acting as an "important contributor" to premature death.
The highest rate of obesity among non-smokers was found in low income groups, according to the study published in the British Medical Journal.Almost 70pc of women in this category were overweight or obese.
Professor Johan Mackenbach from the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam welcomed the study but added: "It is important not to forget that smoking is a much stronger risk factor for mortality than most other risk factors, including obesity."