'Very Light' Cigarette Habit Common Among Young Adult Women

By Victoria Kim 07/21/15

Even very light smoking carries significant health risks.

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While cigarette smoking has declined in the past two decades, nearly one in five young adult women in the U.S. are having up to five cigarettes a day, according to a study published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

These women are considered “very light smokers,” a behavior defined as smoking no more than five cigarettes per day. Using data from a sample of 9,789 women aged 18 to 25 who took part in the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health in the United States, the researchers found that “very light smoking” has increased, with more than 60% of respondents who smoke falling under the “very light smoker” category.

The study found that very light smokers were more likely to be younger (18 to 20), unmarried, from a minority group, and to have some college education. They also shared similar traits with other smokers, such as poor psychological adjustment and a tendency to misuse other substances.

But unlike other smokers, this group was more likely to recognize the risks associated with smoking, less likely to report nicotine dependence, and more likely to be non-daily smokers. However, even very light smoking carries significant health risks.

“Smoking, even at low levels and intermittently, carries significant health risks, such as cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases and an increased risk of lung cancer,” said Carole K. Holahan, study author and professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education, and associate faculty in the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

In addition, smoking can be harmful to women’s reproductive health during this important developmental stage, as cigarette use before or during pregnancy poses threats to maternal and child health, Holahan said.

Understanding the prevalence of very light smoking in this demographic can help prevention programs targeting women in emerging adulthood be more effective, the study concluded.

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