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Lung Damage From 5 Cigaretes A Day Almost As Bad As A Whole Pack, Study Says

It's no secret that smoking is bad for you, or that one of the best things a person can do to improve their health is to quit smoking. Of course, quitting smoking is easier said than done, and so the common wisdom is that even cutting down is a good thing, and it absolutely is.

However, according to a study published in Lancet Respiratory Medicine, even smoking as few as five cigarettes a day can do almost as much damage to the lungs as smoking a whole pack.

For the study, researchers examined the smoking habits and health of more than 25,000 Americans between the ages of 17 and 93.

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They started out with a health exam, including a spirometry exam, which measures lung functions like how much air a person can exhale in a second, and how much air a person can push out in total after a deep breath.

The researchers then tracked each participant for as long as 20 years, collecting data regularly, including at least one more spirometry exam.

While lung function will naturally decline as people age, smoking accelerates that decline — and it takes shockingly few cigarettes to start that decline.

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At the outset of the study, 10,000 participants had never smoked, and 7,000 had quit. Another 5,800 were on/off smokers, and 2,500 smoked regularly. By the end of the study, it was clear that both former and current smokers were worse off than those who had never smoked, which was no surprise.

However, the lung function of those who only smoked a little and those who smoked heavily showed remarkably little difference.

Those who kept their cigarette intake to five or fewer a day had about two-thirds as much lung damage as those who smoked 30 or more per day.

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Basically, a light smoker could expect to lose as much lung function in a year as a heavy smoker would lose in nine months, despite the fact that they might be smoking one-sixth of the number of cigarettes.

What's more, the lung damage among smokers persisted for years, and even decades, after quitting. Study co-author Dr. Elizabeth Oelsner of Columbia University's Irving Medical Center said that smoking-related health risks might never fully disappear after quitting.

Nevertheless, the study does illustrate that never smoking is the best thing you can do for your lungs.

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"The most important messages are in many ways ones that we already know: smoking is extremely bad for lung health and avoiding smoking is the best thing that you can do," Dr. Oelsner said.

And quitting as soon as possible is the next best thing — even if that involves cutting back to five cigarettes a day, that 'sstill one-third better than heavy smoking, and reducing smoking is an important step towards quitting entirely.

h/t: Time