Even Lighting Up Occasionally May Spark Health Concerns

Smoking perceived by teens as not very harmful as long as it was infrequent

(RxWiki News) Teens may have a tendency to think they're bulletproof, but even an occasional cigarette can be harmful to their health.

A new study found that few teens considered smoking every now and then to be risky or harmful. Only around half of the participants in this study said light smoking was dangerous.

"Numerous studies over the past 30 years have shown significant risk even when healthy nonsmokers are exposed only to secondhand smoke, certainly a situation that entails much less exposure and inhalation than actually smoking," said Timothy A. Mixon, MD, an interventional cardiologist at Baylor Scott & White Health where he practices at Scott & White Memorial Hospital in Temple, TX.

"Passive smoke has been shown to increase the risk of not only lung disease (including COPD and cancer), but also heart disease, the #1 killer of both men and women in the US. In fact, the beginning stages of heart disease (or atherosclerosis) can be seen in young men and women as young as teenagers and 20s. It was such studies that led to the removal of tobacco from public places (including restaurants) in numerous cities, a finding that is associated with a decrease rate of heart attack in many of these communities," Dr. Mixon told dailyRx News.

"Additionally, we know that even light smoking may lead to heavier smoking and is associated with adoption of other habits which contribute to poor health, including excessive alcohol usage, other inhaled drugs and inadequate exercise," he said.

"While it is true that heavier usage carries more risk, as the study's authors point out, 'no level of tobacco exposure is safe.' Teens and adults alike will greatly benefit their health by avoidance of all smoking, including occasional light smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke," he said.

Stephen M. Amrock, SM, and Michael Weitzman, MD, of the New York University School of Medicine, wrote this study.

"Light and intermittent smoking are harmful, but increasingly common, smoking patterns," Amrock and Dr. Weitzman wrote.

People who only smoke once in a while can develop nicotine dependence, these researchers added. Smoking tobacco has been linked to health problems like cancer and heart disease.

This study surveyed nearly 25,000 US teens to learn how they perceived the risk of heavy, light and intermittent smoking.

Heavy smoking was defined as a 10 or more cigarettes every day, light smoking was smoking a few cigarettes per day, and intermittent smoking involved smoking sometimes but not every day.

Amrock and Dr. Weitzman found that most of the teens (88 percent) agreed that heavy smoking could be very harmful to health.

However, 64.3 percent said that light smoking could be very harmful, and only 33.3 percent said that intermittent smoking could be.

"US adolescents perceive light and intermittent smoking as significantly less dangerous than heavier smoking," Amrock and Dr. Weitzman wrote.

These researchers called for "significant public health attention" to emphasize to young people that all smoking can be harmful.

This study was published Jan. 12 in Pediatrics.

The National Institutes of Health funded this research. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
January 11, 2015