Heavy smokers who cut back still take in more toxins than light smokers

December 13, 2006
Smoking

U of MN study shows heavy smokers compensate for less cigarettes
University of Minnesota tobacco researchers have found that heavy smokers who reduce their number of daily cigarettes still take in two to three times more total toxins per cigarette than light smokers.

The study, published in the December issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, cites compensatory smoking as the chief reason for the increased exposure despite decreased cigarette use.

"We found that the more that heavy smokers reduced their smoking, the more likely they were to increase their intake of toxicants per cigarette, presumably because they took more frequent puffs or inhaled deeper or longer on each cigarette to compensate for fewer cigarettes smoked," said Dorothy Hatsukami, Ph.D., lead researcher on the study. "This indicates that they are trying to maintain a specific level of nicotine in their bodies."

Hatsukami is a professor and researcher with the University of Minnesota Medical School and Cancer Center. She also directs the University’s Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center.
"Our results are consistent with other studies that show that people who decrease their smoking by 50 percent or more do not experience a comparable reduction in risk for lung cancer because they tend to smoke their fewer cigarettes more intensely," Hatsukami said. "The best way to lower the risk for tobacco-caused premature death is to stop smoking altogether."

The study participants included a group of 64 heavy smokers who had reduced their smoking to levels similar with a group of 62 light smokers. The heavy smokers had smoked on average 26 cigarettes per day before their cigarette reduction. All of the heavy smokers had reduced their smoking by at least 40 percent and smoked five cigarettes per day within six months of enrolling in their study. The light smokers used on average 5.6 cigarettes per day.

Hatsukami and her colleagues created a mathematical formula to calculate the degree of smoking compensation in the heavy smokers compared with the light smokers. They measured a biological marker, total NNAL, which indicates the amount of exposure to the tobacco-specific lung cancer-causing agent NNK.

Their findings showed that the average level of NNAL in the reduced heavy smokers was more than twice that of the light smokers. This was true even when the two groups smoked about the same number of cigarettes per day. The amount of smoking reduction was shown to be a strong predictor of compensatory smoking, with greater cigarette reduction associated with more compensation.

Based on these findings, Hatsukami said, "Heavy smokers would fare better health-wise by quitting smoking rather than decreasing their cigarette use. Although light smokers have lower levels of disease risk than heavy smokers, a low rate of smoking still means increased risk of disease and death compared to non-smokers and quitters."

A previous study by Hatsukami substantiates that fact. The study focused on smoking reduction using nicotine replacement therapies such as gum or patches. It showed that smokers who reduced their cigarette intake by 73 percent only received a 30 percent reduce in carcinogens because of compensatory smoking. Another study indicated that a reduction of 62 percent in tobacco consumption was associated with only a 27 percent reduction in lung cancer risk.

Source: University of Minnesota

Explore further: More frequent vaping among teens linked to higher risk of heavy cigarette smoking

Related Stories

Diabetes proves deadly for smokers

November 22, 2016

While it is well known that smoking causes lung cancer, heavy smokers with diabetes are also at increased risk of death from causes other than lung cancer, according to a study being presented next week at the annual meeting ...

Some fear California's tax on e-cigarettes may deter smokers

November 27, 2016

Smoking has dropped to historic lows nationwide, dramatically decreasing revenue from tobacco taxes. In search of funds, a growing number of states are taxing electronic cigarettes—a trend that is sparking a fierce public ...

Mouth cancer rates soar over 20 years

November 25, 2016

A new Cancer Research UK analysis reveals that rates of mouth (oral) cancer have jumped by 68 per cent in the UK over the last 20 years, today (Friday).

Recommended for you

Baby teethers soothe, but many contain low levels of BPA

December 7, 2016

Bisphenol-A (BPA), parabens and antimicrobials are widely used in personal care products and plastics. The U.S. and other governments have banned or restricted some of these compounds' use in certain products for babies and ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.