A new suggests that simply being a ‘social smoker’ – as opposed to smoking cigarettes every day – isn’t doing your heart any favors.
In fact, social smokers’ risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol is no different from those who smoke on a daily basis.
These findings come out of a large, nationally representative study that was the first to examine blood pressure and cholesterol in social smokers. More than 10 percent of the 39,555 people surveyed identified themselves as social smokers, on top of the 17 percent who deemed themselves current smokers.
Among current and social smokers, roughly 75 percent had high blood pressure and about 54 percent had high cholesterol – even after researchers adjusted for factors like demographics and obesity.
"Not smoking at all is the best way to go. Even smoking in a social situation is detrimental to your cardiovascular health," said lead author Kate Gawlik of The Ohio State University.
"One in 10 people in this study said they sometimes smoke, and many of them are young and already on the path to heart disease.”
Smoking has been identified as a risk factor for unhealthy blood pressure and cholesterol, both of which are major contributors to cardiovascular disease.
"These are striking findings and they have such significance for clinical practice and for population health," said study senior author Bernadette Melnyk of Ohio State's College of Nursing.
"This has been a fairly neglected part of the population. We know that regular smoking is an addiction, but providers don't usually ask about social smoking...The typical question [from doctors] is 'Do you smoke or use tobacco?' And social smokers will usually say 'No'."
Study participants were monitored from February 2012 to February 2016 as part of Ohio State’s Million Hearts initiative, a campaign geared toward improving cardiovascular health.
The researchers say the study results provide an opportunity for intervention and prevention of smoking-related health risks.
"Simple healthy lifestyle behavior changes including appropriate aspirin therapy, blood pressure control, cholesterol management, stress management and - very importantly - smoking cessation can do away with much of the risk of chronic disease," Melnyk said.
Some of the study’s limitations included that the researchers didn’t have information about participants’ prior smoking habits. Moreover, the screenings were open to those who opted to participate, meaning they were self-selected.
Gawlik said further research would ideally reveal how many social smokers go on to become daily smokers.
"That's a huge area for clinical intervention,” she said. “Because you might be able to reach them before they're completely and totally addicted.