Social Smoking Hits The Heart As Hard As An Everyday Habit

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Smoking is bad for you. That hasn’t been news since the 1950s, and yet scientists continue to discover new and horrifying ways that lighting up can damage your health.

This week they’ve gone after all the social smokers out there – puffing away once or twice a week on nights out, confident that such limited exposure to smoking couldn’t do them any real harm. Well it can. In fact, it could be just as bad for your heart as a regular habit, according to research from Ohio State University.

The study quizzed 39,555 people on their smoking habits, with 10% describing themselves as social smokers – meaning they didn’t smoke every day – and 17% saying they were current smokers.

In both groups around 75% of people had high blood pressure and 54% had high cholesterol, both of which are significant contributors to heart disease. These results were adjusted to take into account factors like demographics and obesity.

Senior study author Bernadette Melnyk suggested that more work should be done to identify social smokers.

“This has been a neglected part of the population. We know that regular smoking is an addiction, but [healthcare] providers don’t usually ask about social smoking,” said Melnyk.

“The typical question is ‘Do you smoke or use tobacco?’ And social smokers will usually say ‘No’.”

Instead, the researchers advise doctors and nurses to ask more detailed questions like “Do you ever smoke cigarettes or use tobacco in social situations such as at bars, parties, work events or family gatherings?” There’s no getting out of that one.

So the next time you visit the doc, own up to your social smoking and start working on fixing your heart. Meanwhile, if you are a full-time smoker who doesn’t need peer pressure to light up, it’s worth knowing that simply cutting back will do little to reduce the risk to your ticker – go the whole hog and quit for good. We know it’s not easy, but here’s how nine people did it.

The good news is that healthy lifestyle changes can do your blood pressure and cholesterol levels a world of good. Exercise more, eat a healthy diet, stop smoking… they all add up to a lot of health benefits.

Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.