Even light smokers risk disease and death
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A study released today squashes the common belief that light smokers escape the serious health consequences faced by heavier smokers.
According to the study in the journal Tobacco Control, smoking just one to four cigarettes per day nearly triples the risk of dying from heart disease or lung cancer.
There is widespread belief among the lay public that "a few cigarettes per day cannot harm me," Dr. Kjell Bjartveit of the National Health Screening Service in Oslo, Norway told Reuters Health.
Bjartveit and colleagues tracked the health and death rates of close to 43,000 men and women from the mid 1970s until 2002. All of them were in their 30s and 40s at the start of the study when they were screened for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
The researchers found that both men and women who smoked between one and four cigarettes a day were almost three times as likely to die of heart disease as were individuals who never smoked.
The impact appeared greatest in women, according to the researchers. Women who smoked one to four cigarettes a day were nearly five times as likely to die of lung cancer, and men smoking this amount were almost three times as likely to die of the disease as their non-smoking peers.
Light smokers also had significantly higher death rates from all causes compared to never smokers.
"For decades, it has been known that light smoking endangers health," Bjartveit noted. "In these studies, however, light smoking has been defined as smoking one to nine cigarettes per day. We tried to find out if consumption under five cigarettes a day means increased risk, and it does."
Bjartveit and colleagues say the results from this and other studies should encourage smoking control policymakers and health educators to more strongly emphasize that light smokers are also putting their health in jeopardy.