"Light Smoking" is Still Smoking - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on August 11, 2015

"Light Smoking" is Still Smoking

New research shows that, while the pack-a-day smoking habit, has decreased, light smoking is growing in popularity - especially among young women in the U.S.

Many light smokers don’t consider smoking only
once in a while as harmful, but even a
light smoking habit isn’t safe for your health.

Smoking cigarettes is bad for your health. Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. We know this. But, just like many other bad habits, some people still do it and a new study is confirming that.

New research published in Preventing Chronic Disease reports that, although heavy smoking, or a pack-a-day habit, has decreased, light or casual smoking is growing in popularity, especially among young women in the U.S.

What is "Light Smoking"?

Light smokers are defined as smokers with a habit of five or fewer cigarettes a day. But it can also mean skipping the habit some days and picking up a cigarette every once in a while. One explanation for the growing popularity of casual smoking, or the “I only smoke when I drink” type of habit, is its perceived lack of ill health effects.

Many light smokers don’t consider smoking only once in a while as harmful. In fact, “light smokers” don’t even consider themselves as smokers and, thus, don’t intend to quit.

But even a light smoking habit isn’t safe for your health. No cigarette comes without risk. Repeatedly picking up even just one cigarette puts you at an increased risk of health issues.

Who is at Risk?

The study found that many young women around the ages of 18 to 20 identify themselves as light or very light smokers. Women who smoke, even “lightly,” when they’re young and of childbearing age are particularly at risk since smoking can affect conceiving, fertility, and put them at a higher risk for disorders such as cervical cancer.

Female light smokers aren’t the only ones putting their health at risk. Men who smoke occasionally have an overall death rate that is 1.6 times higher than the death rate of nonsmokers.

What Are the Risks of Light Smoking?

Light smokers are also vulnerable to the same health issues that affect heavy smokers, such as depression, psychological distress and dependence on other controlled substances. Smoking as little as five days out of one month can lead to shortness of breath and coughing. Smoking only one to four cigarettes a day can increase your risk of dying from heart disease and cancer.

And, light smokers have a higher risk of lung cancer.

Another risk of light or casual smoking is that it may lead to gradually smoking more and more, which makes it more difficult to quit the habit.

The hazards to your health from smoking are serious, including heart attack, stroke, dementia, aneurysms, emphysema, asthma, lung infections and cancers of the mouth, throat, lungs and other organs. Combined, these diseases account for more than 400,000 preventable deaths in the U.S. every year.

How to Quit

Preventing these health risks is simple: avoid all forms of tobacco. But, since nicotine is addictive, quitting can be difficult. Here are some tips for ditching cigarettes:

  • Try nicotine replacement therapy to help deal with cravings.
  • Figure out what triggers you to smoke and make a plan to avoid it.
  • Delay your cravings and do something to distract yourself for 10 minutes. Sometimes this can be enough to end your tobacco craving.
  • Chew on gum, candy, raw carrots, celery or nuts when fighting a tobacco craving.
  • Don’t have “just one” cigarette to satisfy a craving. More often than not, having one leads to having another.
  • Try getting active – physical activity can help distract you from your cravings and reduce the intensity.
  • Join a smoking cessation support group.

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