We don’t have to remind you how bad smoking is, but if you previously thought that the occasional cig wouldn’t hurt, think again.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
We don’t have to remind you how bad smoking is, but if you previously thought that the occasional cig wouldn’t hurt, think again.
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A new study by Ohio State University involving over 39,000 participants found that a social smoker’s risk of getting high blood pressure and high cholesterol is identical to someone who smokes a stick every day. Among all the smokers surveyed, around 75 per cent were already suffering from high blood pressure and 54 per cent had high cholesterol. This was even after researchers took other factors like demographics and obesity into consideration.

“Not smoking at all is the best way to go. Even smoking in a social situation is detrimental to your cardiovascular health,” said lead author Kate Gawlik, assistant professor of clinical nursing at The Ohio State University. “One in 10 people in this study said they sometimes smoke, and many are young and already on the path to heart disease,” she added.

Just why is puffing so bad for health, and why are social and passive smokers facing the same risk as someone who smokes daily? Dr Paul Chiam, a cardiologist at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, explains below.

● Why is social smoking just as bad as smoking daily?

This is because smoking even one cigarette induces changes that can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. For example, there is activation of blood platelets (increasing the blood’s viscosity), damage to the blood vessel endothelium (inner lining of arteries that keep the vessel healthy) and increased sympathetic drive (one’s fight-or-flight response), which raises blood pressure and heart rate.

● Just how much damage does one cigarette do to your body?

Studies have shown that, compared to non-smokers, smoking even one cigarette raises the risk of early death significantly. And due to the addictive nature of cigarettes, there is a high tendency for social smokers to become habitual smokers.

● How badly are passive smokers affected?

Second-hand smoke is equally toxic to the person inhaling the smoke. Even breathing it in for just five minutes subjects you to the same health changes as the one actually smoking the cigarette.

● How quickly can the damage of smoking be reversed?

Some of the improvements commence within hours, but the reduction in the risk of serious disease will take many years. That is why one should never start smoking, even socially!

Within the first six hours, the heart rate decreases and blood pressure drops. After 10 years, the risk of lung cancer is lower than if the individual had continued smoking. By 15 years, the risk of heart attack and stroke returns to those of someone who has never smoked.