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Smokers Underestimate the Dangers of a Few Cigarettes

Apr 17, 2015 06:15 PM EDT
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Despite decades of public health campaigning, it turns out that many smokers underestimate the dangers of smoking even just a few cigarettes, according to a new study.

The findings, presented at the European Lung Cancer Conference (ELCC) in Geneva, Switzerland, show that the war against smoking is far from over.

"Nowadays everyone knows that smoking is a risk factor for developing several cancers, especially lung cancer," oncologist and lead study author Dr. Laurent Greillier explained in a press release. "In this new survey we hypothesized that the perception of the risk of developing this disease could be influenced by personal smoking history. In other words, we thought that the risk might be minimized in smokers compared with never-smokers."

To reach their conclusion, a team of French researchers analyzed data from a representative survey of 1,602 French people, aged 40-75. It included 1,463 people with no history of cancer, of whom 481 were former smokers and 330 were current smokers, with an average daily consumption of 14.2 cigarettes.

Astonishingly, 34 percent of participants wrongly considered that smoking daily up to 10 cigarettes was not associated with any risk of lung cancer.

"This finding is particularly impressive and threatening," Greillier said. "It shows that relatively low cigarette consumption is considered as 'safe' for a lot of people. In our study, only half of subjects answered that there is no 'safe' cigarette."

In addition, only half of current smokers considered themselves at higher risk of lung cancer than the average-risk population, and less than 40 percent of individuals knew that the risk of lung cancer never disappears even after quitting smoking.

"People who smoke very much tend to underestimate their risks," said Dr. Carolyn Dresler, who was not involved in the study, "and it makes me think that 'denial' is still prevalent."

"The risk for lung cancer is most dependent on duration of smoking, but of course the number per day matters also," she added. "The risk for cardiovascular disease starts with that one cigarette per day. So, this survey demonstrates that MUCH education is still required."

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