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How Bad is Just One Cigarette?

Is an occasional smoke really that bad for you? Hmm…answers are mixed, and a bit surprising.

Just how bad for us is just one cigarette? One cigarette could be the first cigarette of the day, or the first cigarette we’ve ever smoked. If you smoke just one cigarette and never another (perhaps you are a person who only smokes when you drink) or you smoke a pack a day, or half a pack, or just one every now and then (stressed?) how bad is simply one cigarette, and each cigarette thereafter for our bodies and health? I was curious to see what I would find, and to see if even occasionally smoking held serious health risks that moderate and heavy smokers potentially face.

Is it safe to even smoke cigarettes just once? Or every now and then? Surprisingly, the answers medically are mixed. According to the British Medical Journal, a 50-year study (smoking from 1951-2001 on study subjects) published in 2004 suggested that a person could actually smoke 15 cigarettes a day up to age 30 and expect to have a life expectancy of that of a non-smoker. However, it also suggested in the same study that an individual that smoked up to age 50 could expect to live 10 years less than a non-smoker.

The study also suggests that smoking just one cigarette or even one cigarette a week (did not specify for how long) would have no adverse affect on a person’s health, in that a person consumes more carcinogens and toxins from the environment (car exhaust, pollution in the air, free radicals, etc) that would damage a person’s health far more than one cigarette or one cigarette a week would. Hmm…

So then, if one cigarette or one smoke a week isn’t harmful for the body (potentially), how many cigarettes does it take to become addicted to the nicotine in them, and when do they start causing potential harm to the body? The answers, once again, are mixed. For years, medical science believed that occasional or social smokers were not addicted, while heavy smokers were. In 1990, after a study on youth smoking by the University of Massachusetts, it was concluded that a craving for nicotine could be created by just having one cigarette, and after smoking even just 3 or 4 cigarettes a day for 2 weeks, the addiction could be prevalent, leading to a future addiction that could last up to 40 years. Every body is different, however. Some people can smoke socially (while drinking typically) and not crave nicotine at other parts of their daily lives, and some people who smoked just once immediately wanted another, then another, and down they went.

I have friends who smoke, and all have claimed that they didn’t become physically addicted to smoking right away. Rather, it was the psychological excitement of placing a lit cigarette to their lips and puffing away. For some, it took a week or two to actually start craving a smoke throughout the day, for others, it took a few months. So I would assume every body is different. It seems, however, that most people who start smoking at a younger age become addicted quicker than adults, but I would assume it’s because of the aspect of “getting away with something” whereas an adult can actually just go out and buy a pack. But it seems to me it does not take too long to get addicted, but each person claims they had to keep smoking at least a few cigarettes a day to actually begin craving them.

So from what I’ve researched, it takes a bit of effort to become physically addicted to cigarettes, and perhaps one smoke or even just one smoke every now and then has no adverse effect on a person’s body (or at least not any more than the environment around us does naturally).

But, back to how harmful cigarettes are. How many do you have to smoke before they begin harming your health? Just one cigarette elevates your heart rate from the nicotine being rushed into the system, but how soon and how much do you have to smoke for the chemicals in cigarettes to actually cause harm to the body? It varies, as cancer is genetic, and there’s no telling if and when a cigarette becomes harmful to the body. Some people smoke their entire lives and die of natural causes and old age, while others never smoke at all and still get lung cancer from second-hand smoke. There’s no true answer as to “if and when” a cigarette causes irreparable harm to the body, but the more you smoke the more you coat your lungs with tar, and the more chemicals you inhale into your body. So one would assume that the more cigarettes they smoke the more they are putting themselves at risk, but there’s really no telling.

Every medical study will just tell people to just plain not smoke. Apparently cutting down on smoking is better for the health, but since it takes the lungs two weeks to flush cigarette smoke out of the system still smoking one or 2 cigarettes a day doesn’t seem to be doing our bodies any favors. According to the Surgeon’s General, a third of adult Americans smoke, so we’re willing to take our chances. Based on what I’ve found, you can (apparently) smoke 1 cigarette a week or even a couple a week if you wanted to, but all my smoking friends laughed when I made the suggestion. Once you’re hooked, you’re hooked, they say, and cutting down on smoking is almost as difficult as quitting entirely.

Let’s just say cigarettes are bad for us, and if we can keep from that one first puff, all the better. While there seems to be no way of telling how one person will be affected by cigarettes from the next, it is safe to say that cigarettes contain harmful chemicals and addictive substances that are better left away from our bodies, and we’re much healthier without them. Sounds like a fair assumption to me.

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