Bioethics Blogs

Study Finds No Safe Level of Smoking


Many Americans who’ve smoked cigarettes have been successful in their efforts to quit. But there’s some bad news for those who’ve settled for just cutting back: new evidence shows there’s no safe amount of smoking. One cigarette a day, or even less than that, still poses significant risks to your health.

A study conducted by NIH researchers of more than 290,000 adults between the ages of 59 and 82 found that those who reported smoking less than one cigarette per day, on average, for most of their lives were nine times more likely to die from lung cancer than those who never smoked. The outlook was even worse for those who smoked between one and 10 cigarettes a day. Compared to never-smokers, they faced a 12 times greater risk of dying from lung cancer and 1½ times greater risk of dying of cardiovascular disease.

The findings, reported by Maki Inoue-Choi of NIH’s National Cancer Institute, Rockville, MD, and colleagues, come from an analysis of data from the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study. The study is evaluating the effects of diet and lifestyle on cancer risk over many years in a large group of seniors from across the country.

The study began about 20 years ago, when a team of NIH researchers mailed questionnaires to 3.5 million members of AARP.  More than a half million people answered the original survey. Since then, these respondents have completed two follow-up surveys about their lifestyle and behaviors, including their smoking patterns from ages 15 to 70.

As published in JAMA Internal Medicine, the latest analysis included more than 290,000 seniors who answered a survey conducted from 2004 to 2005 [1].

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.