If you think that having an occasional cigarette in social settings is less dangerous for your heart than smoking a pack a day, think again.
New research shows that social smokers have the same risk for high blood pressure and high cholesterol as regular smokers do.
“Not smoking at all is the best way to go. Even smoking in a social situation is detrimental to your cardiovascular health,” said study author Kate Gawlik, an assistant professor of clinical nursing at Ohio State University.
“One in 10 people in this study said they sometimes smoke, and many of them are young and already on the path to heart disease,” she added in a university news release.
The researchers surveyed nearly 40,000 people in the United States and found that more than 10 percent were social smokers — meaning they don’t smoke every day — while 17 percent were regular smokers.
Among both groups of smokers, rates of high blood pressure were about 75 percent and rates of high cholesterol were about 54 percent, according to the study published May 3 in the American Journal of Health Promotion.
High blood pressure and high cholesterol are major risk factors for heart disease, the leading cause of death worldwide.
“These are striking findings and they have such significance for clinical practice and for population health,” said study senior author Bernadette Melnyk. She is dean of Ohio State’s College of Nursing and chief wellness officer for the university.
Health care providers should try to identify social smokers and offer them advice and tools to quit smoking, the researchers said.
“This has been a fairly neglected part of the population. We know that regular smoking is an addiction, but providers don’t usually ask about social smoking,” Melnyk said.
“Simple healthy lifestyle behavior changes including appropriate aspirin therapy, blood pressure control, cholesterol management, stress management and — very importantly — smoking cessation can do away with much of the risk of chronic disease,” she added.
The American Cancer Society offers a guide to quitting smoking.