Study: Just one cigarette a day can greatly increase risk of dying early

A man smokes a cigarette.
(Image credit: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Smokers who think they're playing it safe by lighting up just one cigarette a day are still at much greater risk of dying early than nonsmokers, researchers announced Monday.

Writing in the American Medical Association's JAMA Internal Medicine, a team from the National Cancer Institute said that while looking at surveys submitted by almost 300,000 people who detailed their smoking habits over a lifetime, they found that people who said they smoked an average of less than one cigarette a day had a 64 percent higher risk of dying early than nonsmokers. Smokers who went through up to half a pack a day, when averaged over a lifetime, had an 87 percent higher risk of dying early than people who had never smoked.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says smoking kills more than 480,000 Americans every year. Smoking rates have dropped in the United States, with only about 15 percent of adults partaking, but the number of people who said they smoke fewer than 10 cigarettes a day has jumped from 16 percent in 2005 to 27 percent in 2014. "The results of this study support health warnings that there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke," study leader Maki Inoue-Choi said. "Together, these findings indicate that smoking even a small number of cigarettes per day has substantial negative effects and provide further evidence that smoking cessation benefits all smokers, regardless of how few cigarettes they smoke."

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Catherine Garcia

Catherine Garcia is night editor for Her writing and reporting has appeared in Entertainment Weekly and, The New York Times, The Book of Jezebel, and other publications. A Southern California native, Catherine is a graduate of the University of Redlands and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.