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Increases your risk for heart attack, stroke and lung cancer by 200%

It’s no secret that smoking cigarettes is bad for your health. But like many other bad habits, some people still smoke anyway.

“Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S.,” says Dr. Jacqueline Lee, cardiothoracic surgeon at Geisinger. According to research, people have started to absorb this information – heavy smoking or a pack-a-day habit has decreased. However, light or casual smoking is growing in popularity.

Light smoking is defined as smoking five or fewer cigarettes per day. It can also mean skipping cigarettes some days and picking one up occasionally.

“Light smokers may not consider their occasional habit as harmful. They may not even consider themselves smokers. But no cigarette comes without risk,” notes Dr. Lee.

That’s right, even a light smoking habit is harmful to your health – repeatedly smoking, even just one cigarette, puts you at an increased risk of health issues.

The research found light smoking has grown in popularity among young women in the U.S. between the ages of 18 to 20.

“Women who smoke, even if it’s a casual habit, when they’re young and of childbearing age can affect conceiving, fertility and put them at a higher risk for disorders like cervical cancer,” cautions Dr. Lee.

Men who occasionally smoke have a death rate that is 1.6 times higher than the death rate of nonsmokers.

“Light smokers are just as vulnerable to the same health issues that affect heavy smokers, including dependence on other controlled substances, depression and psychological distress,” says Dr. Lee. “Smoking as few as five days per month can lead to shortness of breath and coughing. And smoking one to four cigarettes per days can increase your risk of heart disease and cancer."

Light smokers also have a higher risk of lung cancer than nonsmokers.

“A unique risk of light or casual smoking is the possibility that it could lead to gradually smoking more, making it more difficult to quit,” notes Dr. Lee.

What are the risks from smoking?

The hazards to your health from smoking are serious, ranging from heart attack, stroke, dementia, aneurysms, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung infections and cancers of the mouth, throat, lungs and other organs.

“Simply avoiding or quitting all forms of tobacco, even in small amounts, is one of the best ways to lower your risk of these serious health conditions. Cigarettes contain highly-addictive nicotine, which makes quitting difficult,” adds Dr. Lee.

How to quit smoking

Studies have found that quitting cold turkey without any other smoking cessation therapies isn’t the most effective route. Instead, try behavioral interventions or a combination of them.

  • Work with a counselor to help you find ways to not smoke, identify your triggers and establish a plan to cope with cigarette cravings
  • Once you identify your triggers, start avoiding them right away
  • Use nicotine replacement therapies such as patches, gum, and inhalers to ween you off of your addiction without tobacco
  • Talk to your doctor about prescription drugs that aid in quitting, such as varenicline and bupropion
  • Don’t have even just one cigarette to satisfy a craving – it likely will lead to having another one
  • Join a smoking cessation support group
  • Try using physical activity to distract you from cravings and reduce their intensity

Next steps:
Make an appointment with Jacqueline Ji-Eun Lee, MD
Get heart care 
Get cardiac surgery or thoracic surgery care