We know it’s bad for our health, yet we do it anyway. We say we are going to quit, but we pick up the habit once again after a few days. I’m talking about smoking, of course, the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Some individuals try to minimize their addiction by saying they only smoke on special occasions or socially—they are dubbed social smokers. But a large study conducted by researchers at Ohio State University found that their risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol is identical to those who smoke cigarettes every day.
This is the first study of its kind looking at this subset of smokers who are not well recognized in the medical community. Researchers looked at blood pressure and cholesterol levels in nearly 4,000 participants who identified as a social smoker. They were curious about the effects that intermittent cigarette smoking had on the body, if any. After adjusting for differences in factors such as obesity and varying demographics, the researchers concluded that about 75 percent of social smokers had high blood pressure, and roughly 54 percent had high cholesterol.
“Not smoking at all is the best way to go. Even smoking in a social situation is detrimental to your cardiovascular health. One in 10 people in this study said they sometimes smoke, and many of them are young and already on the path to heart disease,” said lead author Kate Gawlik, assistant professor of clinical nursing at The Ohio State University.
The researchers find this result quite disheartening, as the social smoking demographic often go overlooked by physicians. When a doctor asks if you smoke, most social smokers will say no, inevitably leading to a lack of care and counseling to quit cigarettes altogether.
What is more worrying is that the majority of self-identified social smokers in this study were between the ages of 21 and 40, increasing their risk for cardiovascular disease at young ages. This does come with a positive, however, as it allows for reversal of smoking effects much sooner if proper intervention and prevention of future death and disease are implemented.
“Simple healthy lifestyle behavior changes including appropriate aspirin therapy, blood pressure control, cholesterol management, stress management and — very importantly — smoking cessation can do away with much of the risk of chronic disease,” said study senior author Bernadette Melnyk, dean of Ohio State’s College of Nursing and chief wellness officer for the university.
This study helped shed light on the risk experienced by social smokers, showing them that not smoking every day still poses a great impact on overall health. The researchers also believe that the line of questioning by doctors should be modified to include any frequency of cigarette smoking to better identify this demographic and provide intervention promptly.