At some point in the life of most smokers, a reality check hits home. All the talk of serious lung disease, cancer, and an increased risk for virtually every illness out there finally sinks in. They might try to do something about it — ideally, they try to quit. But there are many others who perceive cutting down the number of cigarettes that they smoke per day as being an effective way to limit the threat of disease.
Unfortunately, it isn’t true. A new study has found that you Can’t avoid fatal disease by limiting how much you smoke per day. Cutting down from two packs a day to one, or one to one-half, does not lower a smoker’s long-term risk of death (which is gravely higher than a nonsmoker’s risk). Instead, the only safe way to dodge the heavy risk factors for fatal disease is to stop smoking altogether.
In Norway, researchers tracked a group of 50,000 adults for more than two decades. Men who cut their cigarette intake in half were just as likely to die of heart disease, cancer, or poor blood flow to the heart as men who smoked at their usual pace. There was more stunning news for women, as those who cut their cigarette consumption down were actually more likely to die early than women who smoked heavily.
The study was unusually long and had lengthy periods between observations: once at three years and the next at 10 years. Participants were split into many groups: those who never smoked, those who quit, “moderates” (smoking one to 14 cigarettes a day), “reducers” (cut down their cigarette consumption by more than half), and heavy smokers (over 15 cigarettes a day).
For the first 15 years, male reducers had mildly lower death rates than heavy smokers did, but after that the death rates were basically identical. For women, the reducers had half the risk of fatal lung cancer than heavy smokers did, but when researchers accounted for all causes, the risk of premature death was 11% higher among reducers. For this last finding, the researchers have “no explanation.”
They concluded that no evidence supports the idea that heavy smokers, who cut down their intake by more than 50%, can cut their risk of deadly illness. All this talk of death is a touch morbid but it’s very much relevant when discussing smoking — the world’s biggest cause of preventable death. By 2020, experts believe the number of deaths linked to smoking could swell to 10 million a year.
Cutting down on cigarettes is the means to an end, not the end itself. Quitting smoking is the single greatest thing that you can ever do for your health. Start today — you can do it!