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Cutting Back on Cigarettes?

I know I should quit smoking, but so far, no luck. However, I have cut back to about five cigarettes a day, way below the number I used to smoke. How does this affect my risks of smoking-related diseases?

Answer (Published 11/17/2005)

While cutting back on cigarettes can reduce your risk of lung cancer, if you continue to smoke just a few cigarettes a day, your risk is still significantly higher than it would be if you quit smoking. Danish researchers looked at this issue in a study that followed nearly 20,000 men and women for as long as 31 years. The findings, published in the Sept. 28, 2005 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed that smokers who cut back from 20 cigarettes daily to less than 10 reduced their risk of lung cancer by 27 percent compared to participants in the study who continued to smoke heavily. Participants who quit during the study lowered their risk by 50 percent compared to heavy smokers (defined in this study as those who smoked 15 or more cigarettes a day). Former smokers who participated lowered their cancer risk by 83 percent. Of course, risks were lowest of all among nonsmokers.

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Another study, in Norway, found that men who smoked only one to four cigarettes per day had a risk of dying of lung cancer that was nearly three times higher than it was among men who didn't smoke at all. Women who smoked one to four cigarettes daily were five times more likely to die of lung cancer than women who didn't smoke. What's more, this study found a significantly increased risk of dying from heart disease among both men and women who smoked only one to four cigarettes a day. The study was published in the October 2005 issue of Tobacco Control. I believe exposure to second-hand smoke poses similar risks.

Please commit yourself today to making further efforts to stop smoking. You can get help by calling the American Cancer Society's Quitline at 1-877-YES-QUIT. You also might explore the smoking cessation program designed by my colleague Steven Gurgevich, Ph.D., who uses hypnosis to help motivated people quit. Find his CD's at

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