Reduce Smoking If You Can’t Quit
November 19, 2012

Difficulty Quitting Smoking? Try Cutting Back Instead

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

Can't quit smoking? New research shows that maybe instead of going cold turkey, just admit defeat and try to reduce your cigarette intake instead.

Quitting smoking can lower the risk of disease, increase your life expectancy and improve quality of life. However, old habits die hard and quitting can be a long and difficult process. Researchers now say instead of being discouraged and just stopping trying to quit, maybe you should just try to hold back on how much you inhale those cancer sticks in a day.

The team found a 22 percent reduced risk of an early death for those who just reduced their cigarette consumption when compared to smokers who maintained their smoking habits.

Vicki Myers, a researcher at Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine, said these results show that smoking less is a valid risk reduction strategy. She added formerly heavy smokers had the most to gain from cutting back.

The team analyzed data on 4,633 working Israeli males with an average age of 51 at the time of recruitment. They conducted interviews regarding their smoking habits in 1963, and again in 1965. They followed up with patients for a period of up to 40 years.

During the first interview, participants were placed in categories by daily cigarette consumption, including those who didn't smoke, those who smoked 1 to 10 cigarettes, those 11 to 20 cigarettes, and those who smoked more than 21 cigarettes.

In the second interview, the researchers noted whether an individual had increased, maintained, reduced or ceased smoking during the intervening two years.

They found quitters were the best off in the long term, with a 22 percent reduction in overall mortality. Those who reduced their smoking by one category or more were seen to have a 15 percent decrease overall in mortality risk and a 23 percent reduced risk of cardiovascular mortality.

The researchers measured the participants' survival to the age of 80, seeing a 33 percent increased chance of survival for quitters and a 22 percent increase in chance for those who reduced.

Myers said the study shows reduction is better than doing nothing at all, crediting long-term follow-up periods for demonstrating the effect of smoking reduction.

She said one of the important lessons to take away from the research is that it is never too late to combat smoking habits, because participants in the study were an average age of 51, but were still able to quit or reduce smoking.

The researchers suggest smokers take any steps possible to improve their long-term health habits.

The team published their findings in the American Journal of Epidemiology.