Study finds there is no safe amount of smoking; one cigarette per day increases risk of earlier death 64 percent

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Smoking a few cigarettes a day or even a week increases the risk of an earlier death compared to people who don’t smoke, according to a new study.

“There is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke,” Maki Inoue-Choi, National Cancer Institute researcher and lead author of the study, said in the news release.

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States, accounting for more than 480,000 deaths every year, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Kentucky has one of the highest smoking rates in the nation, at 26 percent. The national average is 15 percent.

The NCI study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that people who consistently smoked an average of less than one cigarette per day over their lifetime had a 64 percent higher risk of earlier death than nonsmokers, and those who smoked between one and 10 cigarettes per day had an 87 percent higher risk.

In addition, the study found a strong association to lung cancer. The group that smoked less than one cigarette a day over their lifetimes had nine times the risk of dying from lung cancer when compared to nonsmokers; and those who smoked one to 10 cigarettes a day had a 12 times higher risk.

The study also found that people who smoked between one and 10 cigarettes a day had over six times the risk of dying from respiratory diseases than nonsmokers and about one and half times the risk of dying of cardiovascular disease than nonsmokers.

However, health risks were lower for those who had quit, especially for those who quit at an earlier age.

The researchers note that while many studies have documented the harmful effects of smoking on health, the health effects of “low-intensity smoking” have not been well studied and that “many smokers believe that low-intensity smoking does not affect their health.”

“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,” Inoue-Choi said.

The study analyzed data for almost 300,000 adults in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study. Participants were between 59 and 82 and self-reported their smoking histories over their lifetime.

The study acknowledged its limitations: self-reported data relies on memory, most participants were older and white, and despite the large number of people surveyed, there was a low number of consistent low-intensity smokers.

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