Social smokers: If you thought it was OK to smoke just a few cigarettes or less a day, you thought wrong.
A new study from the National Cancer Institute published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine found that low-intensity smokers – people who smoke no more than 10 cigarettes per day – have an increased risk of dying prematurely.
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Compared to non-smokers, people who on average smoked less than one cigarette each day throughout their life had a 64 percent greater chance of earlier death. This increased to an 87 percent higher risk for people who smoked between one and 10 cigarettes each day. Risk declined the earlier people quit smoking.
"Regardless of their age, all smokers benefit from quitting," lead researcher Sarah Nash told the Chicago Tribune. "Also, smoking patterns early in life may still affect mortality even 50 to 60 years later. So, it is important to support efforts to prevent adolescent smoking initiation."
As for cause of death, people who smoked between one and 10 cigarettes a day had almost 12 times the risk of lung cancer death than their never-smoking peers. The fewer-than-one-cigarette-per-day group had nine-times the risk.
Researchers examined data from more than 290,000 adults participating in the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health study, all between ages 59 to 82.
The study's limitations include that it hinged on people's memories of smoking habits over decades, leaving room for error, and that the number of low-intensity smokers in the study was small.
Additionally, most people studied fell into the 60s to 70s age demographic and were predominantly white. More research needs to be done on younger groups, plus different racial and ethnic groups, according to a news release.
In the U.S., cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.