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Social smokers face disproportionate lung disease and cancer risk

Friday September 4th 2020

So-called “social smokers” are more than twice as likely to die of lung disease and more than eight times as likely to die from lung cancer than non-smokers, a European conference hears today.

And the study, presented to the European Respiratory Society International Congress, also shows that the risk of lung cancer death for social smokers – classed as individuals who smoke fewer than 10 cigarettes a day – is not substantially lower than those who smoke more than 20 a day.

Cutting down or combining fewer cigarettes with vaping is no substitute for stopping the habit altogether, according to Drs Pallavi Balte and Elizabeth Oelsner at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, New York, USA.

Dr Balte told the virtual conference: “Everyone knows that smoking is bad for you, but it’s easy to assume that if you only smoke a little, the risks won’t be too high.

“Previous research suggests that people are cutting down on smoking, for example in the USA the proportion of smokers smoking less than ten cigarettes per day has increased from 16% to 27%. So, we wanted to study the risks to social smokers compared to people who don’t smoke and compared to heavier smokers.”

The study included 18,730 people with an average age of 61 and they were followed for an average of 17 years. During the study time, 649 died of respiratory disease and 560 died of lung cancer.

The proportion of non-smokers who died from respiratory diseases was 1.8% and from lung cancer was 0.6%, while among social smokers about 3.3% died from respiratory diseases and 4.7% died from lung cancer.

The proportion of heavy smokers – those who smoked more than 20 cigarettes a day – who died from those diseases was 10.1% and 12.9%, respectively.

The researchers calculated that social smokers were 2.5 times as likely to die of respiratory disease and 8.6 times as likely to die of lung cancer, compared to non-smokers. They also had about half the rate of death from respiratory disease as heavy smokers, but their rate of lung cancer death was two thirds that of heavy smokers.

Dr Balte added: “You might think that if you only smoke a few cigarettes a day you are avoiding most of the risk. But our findings suggesting that social smoking is disproportionately harmful.”

Balte P et al. Association of low-intensity smoking with respiratory and lung cancer mortality. “From tobacco and vaping health effects to tobacco cessation” session.

Tags: Cancer | Drug & Alcohol Abuse | Europe | North America | Respiratory

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