“I’ve said before that as a former smoker I constantly struggle with it. Have I fallen off the wagon sometimes? Yes. Am I a daily smoker, a constant smoker? No. I don’t do it in front of my kids and family. And, I would say that I am 95 percent cured. But there are times when…. I mess up,” said President Barack Obama after he admitted to being a casual smoker at a press conference in 2009. He finally quit his 30-year cigarette habit after numerous failed attempts in 2011.
Are you also an occasional smoker? A very common trend seen in people of any age is intermittent or casual smoking. Casual smokers don’t feel addicted to tobacco and do not even consider themselves ‘smokers’. Does that mean that they have a lower risk of getting cancer than chain smokers? While the risk is lower, closet smokers are also at a very high risk of developing lung cancer and heart disease. We tell you how casual smoking can be detrimental to your health.
The Health Risks Of Light Smoking
First coming under spotlight in the 1980s, intermittent smokers or ‘chippers’ (those who chug one to five cigarettes a day) smoke for pleasure and do not experience any cravings or withdrawal symptoms. Sometimes, they can go without smoking for two to three days at a stretch.
But irrespective of the number of cigarettes smoking has several health risks. Smoking for even five days a month can cause coughing and shortness of breath. A study found that smoking one to four cigarettes a day can significantly increase the risk of heart disease and cancer. A woman’s risk of lung cancer is greater than a man’s when compared to non-smokers belonging to both genders.(1)
Smoking even one cigarette a day leads to withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, nausea or headache after 24 hours of abstinence, which points to an addiction. However, as long as the smoker has the end goal in sight—which is to stop using tobacco products altogether—the practice is favorable.
What’s In A Single Cigarette?
A single cigarette contains 8mg to 20mg of nicotine. Most commonly available cigarettes have nicotine towards the lower end of that spectrum, which puts the average amount of nicotine in a cigarette to 12mg.
A person absorbs, on an average, less than 1mg (0.95mg) of nicotine from a single cigarette. The more cigarettes a person smokes, the more nicotine is absorbed by the blood and the greater the chances of him contracting heart disease or lung cancer are.
Scientists measure cigarette cravings in nanograms per milliliter. An average smoker has about 30ng/ml of nicotine in his bloodstream. Smoking more cigarettes pushes this to 50ng/ml. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, nicotine reaches the brain within eight seconds of taking a puff. Many companies use additives to increase the absorption of nicotine in the body. The common ones are:
- Arsenic: A rat poison.
- Benzene: Used in making synthetic rubber and dyes. It is also a known carcinogen.
- Formaldehyde: Used to preserve dead specimens.
- Ethyl furoate: Causes liver damage in animals.
- Cadmiun: Used in batteries.
- Ammonia: Used in household cleaners.
Though our body adapts well to the reduction in nicotine levels, immediate cessation of smoking may cause withdrawal symptoms as the brain gets addicted to it.
No specific quantity of cigarettes is healthy or safe for the body. But in comparison to the millions who are trying to quit, don’t be discouraged. While smoking a single cigarette is definitely better than an entire packet, bear in mind that your objective is ultimately to stop smoking.
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1. Bjartveit K, Tverdal A. Health consequences of smoking 1-4 cigarettes per day. Tob Control. 2005 Oct;14(5):315-20. PubMed PMID: 16183982; PubMed Central PMCID: