Study shows there is no ‘safe’ level of smoking

Even if you just smoke “a little bit,” it could have a significant negative impact on your health, according to a new JAMA Internal Medicine study that showed even averaging less than one cigarette per day could more than double a person’s risk of premature death.

According to NBC News and Youth Health magazine, Dr. Maki Inoue-Choi, an epidemiologist with the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and her colleagues found that people who smoked one cigarette per day had a 64% higher risk of earlier death than those who never smoked, and those having one to 10 cigarettes per day were 87% more likely to die prematurely than non-smokers.

The study authors looked at data from more than 290,000 older Americans (ages 59 to 82), and found that compared with individuals who never used cigarettes, regular low-intensity smokers had a higher risk of death from all causes. Furthermore, the researchers found kicking the habit early was linked to a progressively reduced risk of earlier death.

“The results of this study support health warnings that there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke,” Dr. Inoue-Choi said in an interview with NBC News on Monday. “Together, these findings indicate that smoking even a small number of cigarettes per day has substantial negative health effects and provide further evidence that smoking cessation benefits all smokers, regardless of how few cigarettes they smoke.”

Study Shows the Need for Public Health Efforts

Dr. Inoue-Choi’s team studied 290,215 older adults (aged 59 to 82) who completed the 2004-2005 questionnaire in the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study. Based on their answers, the authors determined that 7.7% of responders currently used cigarettes, 53.9.% had quit and 38.4% never smoked.

Compared to those who had never smoked, even consistently low-intensity smokers (10 or less cigarettes per day) faced a higher risk of death from all causes, and links were found throughout all smoking-related causes of death. The findings “provide further evidence that there is no risk-free level of exposure to tobacco smoke,” the study authors wrote.

The study was not without its limitations, as Youth Health noted. It relied on responders recalling their smoking history, including activity that happened several decades ago and may or may not be accurate. In addition, while a large number of individuals were surveyed, there were relatively few persistent low-intensity smokers, the researchers pointed out in a statement.

Furthermore, the majority of the participants were between the ages of 60 and 79, and white, according to Youth Health. That means that the findings reflect only one particular ethnic and age group. Future studies should involve younger populations, as well as an array of different racial and ethnic groups, as low-intensity smoking historically has been more common among minorities, the magazine said.

Despite its limitations, however, the authors of the study conclude that their findings prove that “all smokers should be targeted for smoking cessation, regardless of how few cigarettes they smoke per day. Further studies are needed to examine the health risks of low-intensity cigarette smoking in combination with electronic nicotine delivery systems and other tobacco products.”

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