Everyone knows smoking is bad for you. There are a variety of PSAs, from TV commercials to billboards and print ads, which show the horrifying realities of life as a smoker, and how it can ravage both your looks and your health, killing not only you prematurely, but your loved ones as well.
Most of those examples are about people who smoke a pack a day or more, though. What if you don’t do it regularly? What if you just light up occasionally at parties, or have a cigarette after dinner once in a while? Unfortunately, you’re still not out of the woods. Recent studies have shown that many of the health risks for so-called “social smokers” are identical to those who smoke regularly.
Health Risks of Smoking
Over 36 million adults in the U.S. are smokers—about 15% of the population. That number has declined significantly over the last 10 years, but it’s still higher than it should be. Nearly half that number—16 million people—have some form of smoking-related illness. And every year, 480,000 people die in this country from smoking. That’s 1 out of every 5 deaths.
The most common health problem associated with smoking is lung cancer. Over time, the tar builds up in your lungs, damaging your respiratory system and eventually killing you. Therefore, it stands to reason that if you smoke less, it will take longer for those effects to become a problem.
However, your lungs aren’t the only thing affected by smoking. Cigarettes basically poison your entire system. They increase your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and more. These problems in turn contribute to heart disease and other cardiovascular problems, which are the number one cause of death in the world.
The Problem with Social Smoking
“Social smokers” are a bit broadly defined, but they’re generally considered to be people who don’t smoke every day, or average less than one cigarette per day. About 10% of smokers in the United States consider themselves to be social smokers only.
It can be a difficult concept to pin down, though, for one very simple reason: most social smokers don’t consider themselves to be smokers. The fact that they have a cigarette once in a while doesn’t put them in the same category as people who smoke a pack a day, and therefore, when they’re asked, “Do you smoke?” on a health-related survey, they’ll answer no.
Medically, though, it doesn’t matter how many or how few cigarettes you consume, or how long you can go without one. If you smoke at all, you’re a smoker, and your health will reflect it. A recent study by Ohio State University has found that those who smoke socially have exactly the same risk for disease as people who smoke regularly. About 54% of social smokers had elevated cholesterol, while a full 75% of them suffered from high blood pressure.
Cigarettes contain a variety of toxins and poisonous chemicals that are seriously hazardous to your health. Every single time you smoke, you’re doing damage to your body. Even if you do only do it occasionally, it’s still a huge risk that you can’t afford to take.
If you consider yourself a social smoker, remember that you’re not actually safer or healthier than if you were to have a pack a day. Give up the habit now, before it’s too late. Check out these resources from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention for help with quitting.