Cutting Smoking Won’t cheat the Reaper: study

Smokers who believe they can avoid fatal disease by slashing the number of cigarettes they smoke each day are badly mistaken, according to a study published this week that says the only safe way out of the risk is to quit.

Long-term research conducted among more than 50,000 Norwegians found that men who halved their daily consumption of cigarettes were as likely to die of cardiovascular disease, reduced blood flow to the heart or cancer as heavy smokers.

And, remarkably, it found that women who cut back were in fact likelier to die prematurely than heavy-smoking counterparts.

“(There is) no evidence that heavy smokers who cut down their daily cigarette consumption by more than 50 percent reduce their risk of premature death significantly,” says the paper, lead-authored by Kjell Bjartveit of the National Health Screening Service in Oslo.

Doctors are warned: “It may give people false expectations to advise that reduction in consumption is associated with reduction in harm.”

The study looked at 24,959 men and 26,251 women who were aged between 20 to 49 at the start of the investigation.

They were quizzed about their smoking habits and their health was monitored.

They then screened twice, at intervals of between three and 10 years, thus making up an unusually long monitoring period of more than two decades.

Participants were classified as “never smokers”; quitters (those who gave up between first and second check); moderate smokers (1 to 14 cigarettes daily); “reducers” (who cut their consumption by more than half at the second check); and heavy smokers, who smoked at least 15 cigarettes a day.

Among men, “reducers” had a slightly lower death rate from all causes, when compared with heavy smokers, over the first 15 years. But after that, the death rates were virtually the same.

Women “reducers” ran half the risk of fatal lung cancer compared with heavy female smokers, but, when death from all causes was factored in, the risk of premature death was 11-percent higher.

“We have no explanation for this phenomenon, beyond the fact that this could be ascribed to chance,” admits Bjartveit.

The research appears in the specialist journal Tobacco Control, published by the British Medical Association.

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