Lungs Still Harmed Even When Smokers Cut Down
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Smoking fewer cigarettes is not likely to help a person escape chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Their best bet is to kick the habit altogether, according to researchers in Denmark.
COPD includes the lung disease emphysema and chronic bronchitis, and is marked by progressively worsening shortness of breath and coughing. The disease is currently the fourth leading cause of death in the world, after heart disease, cancer and stroke.
In the current study, Dr. N. S. Godtfredsen of Copenhagen University Hospital and colleagues followed the lung health of nearly 20,000 people for up to 14 years. The investigators compared heavy smokers (15 or more cigarettes a day) who reduced the number of cigarettes they smoked by at least half over the study period but didn't quit, with smokers who did quit, as well as people who were continuous heavy smokers.
"Quitting smoking early in the study period was associated with a reduction in the risk of hospital admission for COPD of approximately 40%," Godtfredsen and colleagues write in the November issue of the journal Thorax.
While quitting smoking has repeatedly been shown to be associated with improved lung function and slower lung deterioration compared to regular smokers, the results of the current study regarding smoking reduction "were not so clear cut," the researchers note.
The investigators found "no difference" in the risk of being hospitalized for COPD between people categorized as continuous smokers and those who reduced the number of cigarettes that they smoked.
"More research is needed, especially on the effects of smoking reduction, but the current results suggest that this is not a viable alternative or supplement to the existing strategies to reduce the harmful effects of tobacco," Godtfredsen's team concludes.