Even a Few Smokes a Day Can Raise Your Risks

Smokers may underestimate health risks tied to tobacco

(RxWiki News) If you think smoking just a few cigarettes a day keeps you free from the many risks of smoking, you may want to think again.

A new study from France found that smokers may underestimate their risks and consider smoking safe if they only smoke a few cigarettes a day. According to the authors of this study, denial among smokers may be evidence that much more public health education is necessary.

"Nowadays everyone knows that smoking is a risk factor for developing several cancers, especially lung cancer," said lead study author Dr. Laurent Greillier in a press release. "In this new survey we hypothesized that the perception of the risk of developing this disease could be influenced by personal smoking history. In other words, we thought that the risk might be minimized in smokers compared with never-smokers.

Dr. Greillier added, "It seems that people are aware about the dangers of tobacco for health, but might consider that the risks are not for themselves, but only for other people. It is essential that public health policies continue to focus on the tobacco pandemic.”

Dr. Greillier, an oncologist at Hopital Nord in Marseille, France, presented this study April 17 at the European Lung Cancer Conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

These researchers surveyed over 1,400 French people between the ages of 40 and 75. The survey included 481 former smokers and 330 current smokers, while the rest were nonsmokers.

None of the people in this study had cancer. Those who were current smokers smoked an average of 14.2 cigarettes per day.

Dr. Greillier and team found that 34 percent of these patients thought that smoking up to 10 cigarettes a day did not increase their risk of lung cancer. Smoking status did not appear to affect this perception.

Of current smokers, only half thought themselves to be more at risk for lung cancer than the average person. Less than 40 percent of these smokers knew that the risk of lung cancer may not go away even after quitting.

Dr. Carolyn Dresler, a US-based board member of the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer, said lung cancer is not the only risk for smokers.

"The risk for lung cancer is most dependent on duration of smoking, but of course the number per day matters also," Dr. Dresler, who was not involved with the current study, said in a press release. "The risk for cardiovascular disease starts with that one cigarette per day. So, this survey demonstrates that MUCH education is still required. People who smoke very much tend to underestimate their risks, and it makes me think that 'denial' is still prevalent.

"As an oncologist and tobacco control advocate, it amazes me and strikes me as so unfortunate that such lack of knowledge is so prevalent. We all have a strong 'denial gene' in us, and education must be clear, relevant and repeated if we are to change the perceptions that are evident from this survey."

Study funding sources were not available at the time of publication. Dr. Greillier and team disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
April 15, 2015