'Social smokers' face disproportionate risk of death from lung disease and lung cancer

September 03, 2020

'Social smokers' are more than twice as likely to die of lung disease and more than eight times as likely to die of lung cancer than non-smokers, according to research presented at the European Respiratory Society International Congress. [1]

The study also shows that the risk of lung cancer death for 'social smokers' - those who smoke less than ten cigarettes per day - is not substantially lower than those who smoke more than 20 cigarettes a day.

Researchers say their study suggests that cutting down, or combining fewer cigarettes with vaping, is no substitute for quitting.

The research was by Dr Pallavi Balte and Dr Elizabeth Oelsner at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, New York, USA. Dr Balte told the virtual conference: "Everyone knows that smoking is bad for you, but it's easy to assume that if you only smoke a little, the risks won't be too high.

"Previous research suggests that people are cutting down on smoking, for example in the USA the proportion of smokers smoking less than ten cigarettes per day has increased from 16% to 27%. So, we wanted to study the risks to social smokers compared to people who don't smoke and compared to heavier smokers."

The study included 18,730 people selected from a multi-ethnic sample of the general US population with an average age of 61. Researchers followed the people for an average of 17 years, during which time 649 died of respiratory disease and 560 died of lung cancer.

Among non-smokers, the proportion of people who died from respiratory diseases was 1.8% and the proportion who died of lung cancer was 0.6%. Among social smokers (people who smoked less than ten cigarettes a day), around 3.3% died from respiratory diseases and 4.7% died from lung cancer. For heavy smokers (people who smoked more than 20 cigarettes a day), these proportions were 10.1% and 12.9%, respectively.

The researchers calculated the death rates from respiratory disease and lung cancer and compared these rates between non-smokers, social smokers and heavy smokers. They took account of other factors that can influence death rates, such as age, sex, race, educational attainment, and body weight.

They found that social smokers were 2.5 times as likely to die of respiratory disease and 8.6 times as likely to die of lung cancer, compared to non-smokers. Social smokers had around half the rate of death from respiratory disease as heavy smokers, but their rate of lung cancer death was two thirds that of heavy smokers.

Dr Balte added: "You might think that if you only smoke a few cigarettes a day you are avoiding most of the risk. But our findings suggesting that social smoking is disproportionately harmful.

"Smoking is dangerous, regardless of whether you are a heavy smoker or a social smoker, so if you don't want to die of lung cancer or respiratory disease, the best action is to quit completely."

Dr Balte and her colleagues continue to study the effects of social smoking as well as investigating the effects of new habits such as vaping.

Jørgen Vestbo, who was not involved in the research, is Chair of the European Respiratory Advocacy Council and Professor of Respiratory Medicine at the University of Manchester, UK. He said: "Although the proportion of people who smoke habitually is falling in many countries, we should still be concerned about those who identify as social smokers. Cutting down on smoking is a step in the right direction, as quitting tobacco is one of the best ways to protect the lungs and our overall health, but it's clear that there is no safe level of smoking.

"This large study is important because it shows that smoking less will probably not have the effect that people are hoping for. We need to do all we can to support smokers to quit completely using evidence-based means, for example with access to support services, and nicotine patches or gum."
-end-


European Lung Foundation

Related Lung Cancer Articles from Brightsurf:

State-level lung cancer screening rates not aligned with lung cancer burden in the US
A new study reports that state-level lung cancer screening rates were not aligned with lung cancer burden.

The lung microbiome may affect lung cancer pathogenesis and prognosis
Enrichment of the lungs with oral commensal microbes was associated with advanced stage disease, worse prognosis, and tumor progression in patients with lung cancer, according to results from a study published in Cancer Discovery, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

New analysis finds lung cancer screening reduces rates of lung cancer-specific death
Low-dose CT screening methods may prevent one death per 250 at-risk adults screened, according to a meta-analysis of eight randomized controlled clinical trials of lung cancer screening.

'Social smokers' face disproportionate risk of death from lung disease and lung cancer
'Social smokers' are more than twice as likely to die of lung disease and more than eight times as likely to die of lung cancer than non-smokers, according to research presented at the European Respiratory Society International Congress.

Lung cancer therapy may improve outcomes of metastatic brain cancer
A medication commonly used to treat non-small cell lung cancer that has spread, or metastasized, may have benefits for patients with metastatic brain cancers, suggests a new review and analysis led by researchers at St.

Cancer mortality continues steady decline, driven by progress against lung cancer
The cancer death rate declined by 29% from 1991 to 2017, including a 2.2% drop from 2016 to 2017, the largest single-year drop in cancer mortality ever reported.

Cancer-sniffing dogs 97% accurate in identifying lung cancer, according to study in JAOA
The next step will be to further fractionate the samples based on chemical and physical properties, presenting them back to the dogs until the specific biomarkers for each cancer are identified.

Lung transplant patients face elevated lung cancer risk
In an American Journal of Transplantation study, lung cancer risk was increased after lung transplantation, especially in the native (non-transplanted) lung of single lung transplant recipients.

Proposed cancer treatment may boost lung cancer stem cells, study warns
Epigenetic therapies -- targeting enzymes that alter what genes are turned on or off in a cell -- are of growing interest in the cancer field as a way of making a cancer less aggressive or less malignant.

Are you at risk for lung cancer?
This question isn't only for people who've smoked a lot.

Read More: Lung Cancer News and Lung Cancer Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.