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Occasional Smokers Face Serious Health Risks

102018image006A new report from researchers at the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland appears to point to findings suggesting that even occasional smokers are at a significantly higher risk of lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, fertility problems and a host of other health problems -- compared with non-smokers.

This includes even those individuals that only occasionally smoke. Occasional smoking, defined in the report as any smoking that occurs on a less than daily basis, is still perceived as less dangerous than smoking every day, which might not be the case.

In the United States, estimates suggest that about 15 percent of the adult population smokes, and about 25 percent of those smokers do so occasionally. Such smokers are difficult to reach via current educational materials as smoking cessation programs and efforts are usually focused on daily smokers.

In another survey, investigators found that only about 65 percent and 33 percent of U.S. adolescents believe that light and intermittent smoking, respectively, are very harmful. About 25 percent of folks said intermittent smoking leads to no or little harm.

The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland study also found that occasional smokers were more likely to be young adults with a higher level of income and education compared with daily smokers, and also were more likely to start later, more likely to be from an ethnic minority, and more likely to be female.

Many occasional smokers do not see themselves as smokers.

“Those who smoke occasionally have almost a 40 percent greater risk of dying from smoking-related disease compared with non-smokers,” said Dr. Desmond Cox, chair of the Policy Group on Tobacco at RCPI, Dublin, Ireland. “They carry almost the same risk of cardiovascular disease as daily smokers. In regard to lung cancers in women ages 35 to 49, those who smoke between one and four cigarettes a day are five times more likely to develop lung cancer when compared to non-smokers. In men, the risk is threefold.”

The organization offered the following recommendations to reduce smoking:

  • Better awareness about the dangers of occasional smoking is needed among the general public and healthcare professionals.
  • Health promotion campaigns on the dangers of any pattern of smoking and stricter smoking bans need to be implemented to assist in decreasing the number of people who occasionally smoke.
  • Improved understanding on why occasional smokers initiate and continue to smoke in this pattern is required.
  • The role of different smoking cessation techniques to address the behavioral patterns of occasional smokers need to be examined.

“Other lifestyle choices also need to be addressed,” Dr. Cox said in a statement. “It is vital that there is increased awareness of the health implications of occasional smoking. Those in this category often feel no great need to give up for health reasons and do not perceive themselves as smokers.”

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