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Have the occasional cigarette? There is no safe level of smoking, study warns

People who smoke between one and 10 cigarettes per day increase their risk of dying by 87 per cent compared to people who have never smoked. .
People who smoke between one and 10 cigarettes per day increase their risk of dying by 87 per cent compared to people who have never smoked. . (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)

Maybe you light up only once a day or you go through an entire pack of cigarettes. Either way, new research is warning long-time, low-volume smokers that there is no safe level of smoking when it comes to your health.

Scientists out of the U.S. National Institutes of Health say that even people who smoke an average of less than one cigarette a day over their lifetime have a 64 per cent higher risk of dying from respiratory diseases than non smokers.

People who smoke between one and 10 cigarettes per day increase their risk of dying by 87 per cent compared to people who have never smoked. But there is a silver lining: across the board, risk fell once smokers quit for good.

“Light smoking and not smoking every day are perceived by many to be effective strategies for reducing the health risks associated with tobacco use, but results from a new study appear to confirm that there is no safe level of exposure to cigarettes,” the study’s lead author, Dr. Maki Inoue-Choi, said.

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READ MORE: Smokers who quit before 40 save a decade of their lives, study suggests

In the new NIH study published Monday, scientists looked at risk of dying from respiratory diseases and heart disease. The scientists scoured the health records of more than 290,000 people enrolled in a long-term NIH study. Participants were between 59 and 82 at the start of the study.

They were asked about their smoking behaviours during nine periods of their lives from before their 15th birthday right up until age 70 (for older participants).

The researchers concede their study had one limitation. They relied solely on people remembering their smoking habits over the past few decades. This adds a “degree of uncertainty” into the findings. The study participants were almost “mostly white and in their 60s and 70s” so their smoking patterns reflect only a particular set of Americans, as well.

READ MORE: US is marking 50th anniversary of surgeon general report that turned the tide against smoking

From their findings, the researchers warned that people who smoked between one and 10 cigarettes a day had over six times the risk of dying from respiratory diseases than never-smokers. They also increased their risk of dying from heart disease by nearly double.

There were some nuggets of good news from the findings, though. There’s been an overall decline in tobacco use over the past 10 years and regular smokers tend to smoke less altogether.

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About 16 per cent of daily smokers reported smoking less than 10 cigarettes a day in 2005. By 2014, that number crept up to 27 per cent.

Trying to quit is difficult but it’s worth the effort. A 2013 Canadian study suggested that smokers who quit before they turn 40 can live almost as long as people who never smoked.

READ MORE: Woman featured in graphic anti-smoking ads dies of cancer, hailed as hero

“There is about a decade of life lost between smokers and non-smokers,” Dr. Prabhat Jha told Global News.

“Those that quit smoking by age 30 basically got the full decade of life back and those that quit smoking even by age 40 got nine years of life back.”

Quitting isn’t easy, but each time you do, you further your cause. If you make it a week, you’re nine times more likely to quit for good, according to research.

The Smokers’ Helpline, operated by the Canadian Cancer Society, is offered across the country to Canadians, and for free.

READ MORE: How health officials helped 120,000 people quit smoking

On your cigarette pack, there’s a provincial number that’ll guide you to regional resources. The helpline can be accessed over the phone, online or via text.

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Coaches, most of whom are former smokers, offer advice around the clock to those who call in.

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca