Heavy smokers who cut down 'compensate with deeper, longer puffs'

In collaboration with the Press Association

Research has shown that heavy smokers that have cut down on their smoking still experience significantly greater exposure to toxins per cigarette than light smokers - probably due to deeper or longer puffs.

The process of taking deeper and longer puffs has been labelled 'compensatory smoking' by researchers at the University of Minnesota, who studied 126 'light' and 'heavy' smokers.

The 'light' smokers smoked an average of 5.6 cigarettes a day while the 'heavy' reducers smoked an average 26 cigarettes per day prior to cigarette reduction.

All of the reducers studied decreased their smoking by at least 40 percent and smoked five cigarettes per day within six months of enrolling in the study.

They found that even when smokers in the two groups smoked as few as five cigarettes a day, heavy smokers who reduced their cigarette intake experienced two to three times the amount of total toxin exposure per cigarette when compared with light smokers.

This process increased as heavy smokers reduced the number of daily cigarettes. As a result, smokers who decreased their smoking to as little as one to three cigarettes per day experienced a four- to eight-fold increased exposure to toxins per cigarette as compared with light smokers.

"These results are consistent with other studies that show that people who decrease their smoking by 50 percent or more don't experience a comparable reduction in risk for lung cancer because they tend to smoke their fewer cigarettes more intensely," said Dorothy Hatsukami, lead author of the study and director of the University's Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center in Minneapolis.

"The best way to lower the risk for premature death is to stop smoking altogether."

The report is published in the December issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.