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Even One Cigarette a Day Poses Risk

Light smoking is more dangerous than once believed

One Cigarette in a red ashtray

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Light smoking is not as safe as many think, according to a new study.

Smokers who have cut back but are still clinging to one last cigarette a day may want to stub out the habit — now.

A new study from a team of British researchers, published in the journal BMJ last week, found that lighting up even just one cigarette a day results in a higher risk of stroke and heart disease than previously thought. According to the research team, “No safe level of smoking exists for cardiovascular disease.”

Led by coauthor Allan Hackshaw of UCL Cancer Institute at University College London, the team analyzed data from 141 studies on coronary heart disease and stroke and compared men and women who smoked one, five and 20 cigarettes a day (the last the equivalent of a pack). The findings were unexpected. Men who smoked just one cigarette a day had 46 percent of the relative risk of heart disease that a heavy smoker had and 41 percent of the risk for stroke. Women who smoked one cigarette a day had a 31 percent increased risk of heart disease, compared with the 20-a-day smoker, and 34 percent of their increased risk of stroke. “We also show that women who smoke only a couple of cigarettes per day have a higher risk of heart disease (than men) when compared to never smokers,” Hackshaw told AARP.

The findings apply to smokers of all ages, and the key lesson for those who light up and the health professionals who treat them is that “light smoking is not as safe as many think,” Hackshaw said. “People should try whatever effective cessation aid that suits them; cold turkey works for some but not all. The benefits from stopping should take a few years for cardiovascular disease and several years for cancer. But cutting down is certainly better than smoking the same high amount. And cutting down has significant reductions in the risk of cancer (and other disorders). … It is absolutely important that people try this if they find it too difficult to stop completely.”