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Researchers Profile the 'Light' Smoker

They're younger, more often black or Hispanic, report finds

MONDAY, April 6 (HealthDay News) -- The dangers of heavy and regular cigarette smoking are well known, but researchers have now produced an overview of "light" smokers in the United States.

The examination of intermittent or occasional smokers, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates make up one of five smokers in the country, is published in a series of studies and articles in a special March issue of Nicotine and Tobacco Research.

Among the findings:

  • Blacks, Hispanics/Latinos, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders were more likely to be light or intermittent smokers than whites.
  • Adults younger than 35 were more likely than older adults to smoke fewer than six cigarettes a day. In addition, though smoking in general decreased among Americans aged 30 or older, light and intermittent smoking rose among adults younger than 30.
  • Young adults who smoked but lived in states with stricter policies on smoking or in smoke-free homes were more likely to be light and intermittent smokers.
  • Adolescents who had fewer than four cigarettes a day showed no significant symptoms of nicotine withdrawal 24 hours after their last puff, whereas those smoking four or five cigarettes a day did.
  • College students who smoked at least five days a month were more likely to experience shortness of breath than their nonsmoking peers.

"In order to adequately address the issue of tobacco use in this country, we cannot overlook light and intermittent smokers," Pebbles Fagan, a scientist in the Tobacco Research Branch of the U.S. National Cancer Institute, said in a news release from a sponsor of the research. "Research suggests an impending global pandemic of light smokers, and we must take what this paper outlines and move the agenda forward in advancing research of the full spectrum of smokers."

The special issue focuses on people who smoke fewer than 15 cigarettes a day and who may not smoke every day. The idea stemmed from a 2005 meeting of health experts, researchers and scientists who noted that most tobacco research and cessation efforts focused only on heavy and regular use of the product, even though it is generally accepted that any level of cigarette smoking is bad for one's health.

"This special issue is chapter one of a very important volume in the overall fight against tobacco," Cheryl G. Healton, president and chief executive of the American Legacy Foundation, said in the news release. "We are yet to fully understand the best ways to help these light smokers quit -- a very important goal as they represent an increasing percentage of the smoking population."

The American Legacy Foundation, an anti-tobacco group created as part of the 1998 national settlement against the tobacco industry, co-funded the special issue along with the U.S. National Cancer Institute, the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse and the U.S. National Institutes of Health Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research.

More information has more about how to quit smoking.

-- Kevin McKeever

SOURCE: The American Legacy Foundation, news release, March 20, 2009

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