Smokers who cut back on cigarettes may negate benefit through 'compensatory smoking'

PHILADELPHIA Heavy smokers who have reduced their number of daily cigarettes still experience significantly greater exposure to toxins per cigarette than light smokers, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Minnesota.

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, researchers report in the December issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

In addition, researchers observed that the more that heavy smokers reduced their smoking, the more likely they were to increase their exposure to toxicants per cigarette presumably because they took more frequent puffs or inhaled deeper or longer on each cigarette, a process referred to as "compensatory smoking." 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.

Compensatory smoking occurs because smokers are trying to maintain a specific level of nicotine in their bodies, says Dorothy K. Hatsukami, Ph.D., lead author of the study and director of the University's Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center in Minneapolis. Other factors, such as the sensory aspects of smoking, also may play a role in compensatory smoking, Hatsukami says.

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

For the study, Hatsukami and colleagues compared a group of 64 people participating in two smoking reduction intervention studie

Contact: Staci Vernick Goldberg
American Association for Cancer Research

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