Smokers eager to cut the risk of dying early from tobacco-related illnesses must quit completely, researchers said on Tuesday, because cutting down — even by half — is not enough.
“Smokers should quit — you can’t give your health a better present than to quit smoking,” said Dr Kjell Bjartveit, former director of the National Health Screening Service, in Oslo.
In a 20-year study of 51,000 men and women in Norway, Bjartveit and his team studied the impact of cutting down smoking on deaths from heart disease, lung cancer and other tobacco-related cancers.
All the people at the start of the study were between 20-34 years old. They were assessed for their risk of suffering from cardiovascular disease at the beginning of the project and twice during the 20-year follow up period.
The aim of the research, published in the journal Tobacco Control, was to determine the health benefits if heavy smokers who got through more than 15 cigarettes a day cut their consumption by half or more.
“The long-term effects of a substantial reduction in smoking did not show any benefits in comparison with persistent heavy smoking,” Bjartveit told Reuters.
The researchers found no significant difference in early death rates from cardiovascular disease, cancers and other causes between heavy smokers who continued their habit and people who had halved their consumption during the study.
The results were the same for both men and women.
“In health education and patient counselling, it may give people false expectations to advise that reduction in consumption is associated with reduction in harm,” Bjartveit added.
Smoking is a leading cause of preventable death. In addition to being a risk factor for heart attack and stroke and certain types of cancer, it is also the leading cause of lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
Health experts estimate the annual global deaths associated with smoking could double to 10 million or more by 2020.
“The study proves quite clearly the only safe way out of the risk caused by smoking: people who quit smoking have achieved a risk level that is remarkably lower than those who continued to smoke,” Bjartveit said in the journal.