One puff is all it takes

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No matter which way you look at it, smoking cigarettes is harmful to one’s health. And that goes for just one cigarette a day. People who smoke just one cigarette a day still share a full 46 percent of the increased odds for heart disease that a heavy smoker has, and 41 percent of the risk for stroke. People who smoke even one cigarette a day are still about 50 percent more likely to develop heart disease and 30 percent more likely to have a stroke than people who have never smoked.

The bottom line, as suggested recently by the National Cancer Institute and the BMJ: There is no such thing as safe smoking. Inhaling any amount of cigarette smoke is bad for your health. Lighting up just once a day is linked to a much higher risk of heart disease and stroke than might be expected.

There’s more bad news for smokers. At least two-thirds of those who try cigarettes – again just one a day - go on to become daily smokers.

This is a warning to those who call themselves “light” smokers; it too carries a heavy price. Lighter smokers frequently do not even consider themselves smokers but are still at risk of developing coronary heart disease from smoking even a small number of cigarettes.

Specifically, smoking even half a cigarette a day over a lifetime means a 64 percent increased mortality risk, while smoking 10 cigarettes a day translates to an 87 percent greater risk. One-cigarette smokers were nine-times likelier to die from lung cancer, while the 10-cigarette group’s risk of lung cancer is 12 times higher.

The message is that there is no safe level of smoking. Anyone who smokes, even occasionally, knows how smokers think, that it doesn’t really count if, say, you only smoke one cigarette a day. However, every cigarette does count. Smoking socially, occasionally, or otherwise inconsistently is generally seen as “safer,” especially compared to people who smoke a pack a day or more. But there is no such thing as safe smoking.

This is a major development, not just for those who have been laboring under the assumption that they are somehow beating the system by dialing back a bit. While previous research has found that the overall length of a person’s smoking lifetime is the more important factor in terms of overall risk, the net result is that not smoking so much will do virtually nothing to prevent the dangers of smoking.

This is troubling because low-intensity smoking is not only highly popular among those who believe they are in the clear but it is something people often do and seem to think isn’t harmful. There is this seductive idea that smoking isn’t all that bad, particularly if you balance it out with other healthy choices.

Smokers will, of course, read this as justification for smoking a pack a day. If under one cigarette a day puts you at a whopping 67 percent higher risk of death, but 10 cigarettes is an 87 percent risk, you may as well go ahead and smoke all 10. But it would be wrong to conclude that cutting down smoking is useless. Those who try to cut down are more likely to stop eventually and thus really reduce their risks from smoking.

Light smoking means one has discovered the best of both smoking worlds - you kept the smoking door open but just enough to feel you are out of the woods.

However, research shows the remarkable hold cigarettes have on an individual after just one experience. So, if they want to significantly reduce the risks, smokers should quit entirely instead of just cutting down.


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