Some Bad News for Casual Smokers

December 6th 2016

Kyle Jaeger

Smoking even one cigarette a day significantly raises your risk of premature death, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine.

photo of a hand holding a cigarette

The study debunks the myth that "casual" or "social" smokers are less vulnerable to the host of health risks posed by inhaling cigarette smoke. It turns out that people who smoke an average of less than one cigarette per day are 64 percent more likely to die early. In contrast, people who smoke between one and 10 cigarettes per day are 87 percent more likely to die early, USA Today reported.

Researchers analyzed data on about 300,000 people between the ages of 59 and 82, looking at their smoking habits and overall health. Study participants completed a health questionnaire between 1995 and 1996, and the researchers compared those responses to follow-up questionnaires submitted by participants between 2005 and 2006.

Lung cancer was the most common cause of premature death among smokers. People who smoked less than one cigarette per day were nine times as likely to die from lung cancer than non-smokers, and people who smoked between one and ten cigarettes each day were 12 times as likely to die from lung cancer than non-smokers.

Though the study underscored the dangers of smoking fewer cigarettes, it also included some encouraging news: the quicker you quit smoking, the less likely you are to develop the numerous health problems associated with cigarettes.

"The results of this study support health warnings that there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke," Maki Inoue-Choi, Ph.D., the lead author of the study, said in a Monday press release. "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."


A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in November reinforced this point. It found that people who quit smoking in their 60s are still 23 percent less likely to die early than smokers who never quit.

"Based on less substantial data, we've been telling the public that it's never too late to quit, because it will benefit health and prolong life," Norman Edelman, the lead scientist at the American Lung Association, told NPR.