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Study Confirms There Is No Safe Level of Smoking

Article date: December 8, 2016

By Stacy Simon

People who smoke as little as 1 cigarette a day over their lifetime still have a greater risk of early death than people who have never smoked, according to a study by researchers from the National Cancer Institute. The researchers say this shows that no level of cigarette smoking is safe.

The study included 290,215 adults ages 59 to 82 who answered questions about how many cigarettes they smoked during different periods throughout their lives. Researchers then followed the participants for an average 6.6 years. Results showed that people who consistently smoked an average of less than 1 cigarette per day had a 64% higher risk of dying earlier than people who had never smoked. Those who smoked 1 to 10 cigarettes a day had an 87% higher risk of dying earlier than people who never smoked. The risks were lower among former smokers compared to those who still smoked. And among former smokers, the earlier people quit, the lower their risk.

Results showed an especially strong link among study participants between cigarette smoking and death from lung cancer. People who consistently smoked an average of less than 1 cigarette per day had 9 times the risk of dying from lung cancer as people who had never smoked. Those who smoked 1 to 10 cigarettes a day had 12 times the risk of dying from lung cancer as people who never smoked, as well as significantly higher risks of death from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

According to Cliff Douglas, the American Cancer Society’s Vice President for Tobacco Control and Director of the Society’s Center for Tobacco Control, the difference between not smoking at all and smoking just a little bit is dramatic. He says, “It may be easy to rationalize smoking a few cigarettes a day if you’re not educated about the relative risks, but the risk of cancer and other debilitating and life-threatening illnesses are still significant even with ‘low-intensity’ smoking.”

More than lung cancer; more than cigarettes

In addition to lung cancer, smoking causes many other types of cancer and increases the risk of debilitating long-term lung diseases like emphysema and chronic bronchitis. It also raises the risk for heart attack, stroke, blood vessel diseases, and eye diseases. Half of all smokers who keep smoking will eventually die from a smoking-related illness.

The National Cancer Institute study examined only low levels of cigarette smoking. But use of other tobacco products has increased in recent years. These include cigars, pipes, hookahs, and electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes). Just as there is no safe level of smoking, there is also no safe form of tobacco, including e-cigarettes.

The study’s authors call for future research examining the risks of low-level cigarette smoking combined with the use of other tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. The study was published online December 5, 2016 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Citation: Association of Long-term, Low-Intensity Smoking With All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality in the National Institutes of Health–AARP Diet and Health Study. Published online December 5, 2016 in JAMA Internal Medicine. First author Maki Inoue-Choi, PhD, MS, National Cancer Institute, Rockville, Md.

Reviewed by: Members of the ACS Medical Content Staff


ACS News Center stories are provided as a source of cancer-related news and are not intended to be used as press releases. For reprint requests, please contact permissionrequest@cancer.org.

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