There Is No “Safe Amount” of Cigarette Smoking

New research indicates that even a few cigarettes a day can cause extensive damage

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Photo by Sajjad Zabihi on Unsplash

There may be a perception among many in the general public that, while heavy smoking is recognized as a problem that causes lung disease, smoking “a little bit” should be OK. “I only smoke a few cigarettes a day, Doc,” is what I have been told by many patients. Well, recent research has shown that even this can cause extensive, lasting damage.

Researchers studied data on six US population-based cohorts included in the NHLBI Pooled Cohort Study, looking at smoking rates and the decline in lung function. After studying over 25,000 patients, they found that, even if people stopped smoking years ago, lung function continues to decline at a faster rate than never-smokers.

Now, everyone experiences a decline in lung function with age, but this decline is greatly accelerated in people who smoke. Even in people who smoke less than 5 cigarettes a day, their lung function declines at a rate of around five times that of former-smokers.

The researchers concluded:

Former smokers and low-intensity current smokers have accelerated lung function decline compared with never-smokers. These results suggest that all levels of smoking exposure are likely to be associated with lasting and progressive lung damage.

The study was published in the journal The Lancet — Respiratory Medicine on October 9. 2019.

In other words, there is no “safe” amount of smoking. Even smoking less than 5 cigarettes a day can cause lasting lung damage. And when the lungs are damaged, they are frequently permanently damaged.

Given all the bad things about vaping, one would think smoking is better. As a lung doctor, I would say, “Umm…no.”

Well,” someone may say, “it is better than vaping,” given all the horrible things that have been coming out about vaping. Indeed, I have been quite vocal against vaping. As a lung doctor, however, I would have to say, “Umm…no.”

The lungs are beautiful, exquisite organs. They are very sophisticated, and they are excellent at taking the life-sustaining oxygen from the air and transferring it to the blood, where it goes to the rest of the body.

That said, the lungs were only designed to process air — not cigarette smoke, not air pollution, and certainly not vaping chemicals/oils. Inhale anything into the lungs other than air, and you are placing your health at risk.

The opinions expressed in this post are my own and do not reflect those of my employer or the organizations with which I am affiliated.

NY Times featured Pulmonary and Critical Care Specialist | Physician Leader | Author and Blogger | His latest book is “Code Blue,” a medical thriller.

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