This Is What One Cigarette a Day Does to Your Body

Spoiler alert: very bad things.

Everyone knows that smoking is really, really bad for your health. The toxins from the tar in the cigarette get into your blood and thicken it. Your heart rate and blood pressure increases. And your arteries get more narrow, inhibiting the amount of oxygen circulating throughout your body. All together, these factors significantly increase your chance of a heart attack or stroke. And that's just what smoking does to the heart (it's no picnic on the lungs, brain, skin, sexual organs, mouth, throat, or stomach either).

But a lot of "casual" or "social" smokers tend to be of the opinion that cigarettes are like chocolates: a little bit in moderation can't hurt, right?

Wrong. A new report by the UCL Cancer Institute at University College London, published in the British Medical Journal, has found that smoking just one cigarette a day can significantly raise your chance of a heart attack or stroke.

"Smoking few cigarettes is generally believed to be relatively safe, as has been incorrectly assumed for light/low nicotine cigarette," Allan Hackshaw, Deputy Director of the Cancer Research UK and University College London Cancer Trials Centre, wrote. "Among 24 658 US adolescents, 10% thought that light smoking was not harmful, and only 35% of light smokers considered their habits to be associated with "a lot of harm."

Many people believe that the amount you smoke is proportionate to the risk of disease it causes; for example, smoking only 1 cigarette a day instead of 20 means you only have 1/20th of a chance of getting seriously sick. That is true when it comes to lung cancer, as a large American Cancer Society Prevention Study showed there was a more or less linear relationship between the number of cigarettes you smoke and the risk for lunch cancer.

However, the UCL study, which reviewed the health abstracts of 13 861 people between 1946 and May 2015, found that while the risk for heart disease was greater in "heavy" smokers than "light" smokers, the risk for light smokers was still fairly steep.

For men, smoking 20 cigarettes a day raised the risk of heart disease by 96 percent as compared to a non-smoker. Those smoking only one a day still had a not-insignificant risk of 48 percent.

For women, the risks are ever higher. Hackshaw's team found that smoking just one cigarette a day raised the risk of heart disease by 57%.

As such, the study concluded that, contrary to popular belief, "no safe level of smoking exists for cardiovascular disease."

If you feel like you need a way to de-stress that won't lead to a long, painful death, check out 10 Ways Successful Men Cut Stress.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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