Even Light Smoking Carries Cardiovascular Risks

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Smoking as little as one cigarette a day may be enough to substantially raise the risk of cardiovascular disease, according to research published online in 2018 in the BMJ.

The analysis of 141 studies found that light smoking-roughly one cigarette per day-was tied to a significant risk of coronary heart disease as well as stroke. Light smokers had a 48 to 57 percent higher risk of heart disease versus lifelong nonsmokers-and a 25 to 31 percent greater risk of stroke.

The risks are striking, in part, because they are more substantial than what might be expected. People who smoked just one cigarette a day had about half the excess risk of heart disease and stroke as smokers who had 20 cigarettes per day.

Combined, the studies included millions of middle-aged and older adults who were tracked over years. During that time, roughly 111,000 people developed coronary heart disease, while about 135,000 had a stroke. Those numbers are large enough to give fairly reliable estimates of the average risks linked to light and heavier smoking.

Cutting down on smoking is an important first step toward quitting. But there is no safe level of smoking. If you need help with quitting for good, talk to your doctor-nicotine-replacement products or other smoking-cessation tactics might help.