Although men who smoke may weigh less, more of their body fat is deposited around the waist in a spare tire pattern linked to higher risk of heart disease, diabetes and premature death, doctors said Thursday.

Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a team of researchers from the National Institute on Aging in Baltimore found that men who smoke have more fat stored around the waist and proportionally less stored on the hips, compared to non-smokers or men who have quit smoking."This is one more harmful effect of cigarette smoking - if you need one more," said Dr. Reubin Andres, one of the authors of the study and director of the institute's Laboratory of Clinical Physiology. "Cigarette smokers tend to deposit fat in more dangerous areas of body than non-smokers."

Researchers have found that a more top-heavy arrangement of fat - a higher ratio of waist to hip circumference - is associated with high blood pressure, blood sugar problems and abnormal levels of fats and cholesterol in the blood. These factors contribute to heart disease, diabetes and premature death.

"It's not just how fat you are, but where the fat is deposited that counts in terms of health," Andres explained.

The study followed more than 1,100 men, ranging in age from 19 to 102, for 26 years. Participants who smoked more than two packs a day had the highest ratio of waist-to-hip measurements with light smokers having proportions closer to those of former smokers.