What Happens When We Cut Back

Heavy smokers who reduce their number of daily cigarettes may actually be getting greater exposure to toxins per cigarette than light smokers, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Minnesota.

Even when smokers in the two groups smoked as few as five cigarettes a day, heavy smokers who reduced their cigarette intake experienced two to three times the amount of total toxin exposure per cigarette when compared with light smokers, researchers report in the December issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

In addition, researchers observed that the more that heavy smokers reduced their smoking, the more likely they were to increase their exposure to toxicants per cigarette. This is probably because they took more frequent puffs and/or inhaled deeper and longer. This is a known phenomenon called "compensatory smoking."

Compensatory smoking occurs because smokers are trying to maintain a certain level of nicotine in their blood stream. If the blood levels fall too low, we experience withdrawal symptoms. So, even though we are smoking less we extract more nicotine but inhaling deeper and puffing harder. Basically, we smoke more efficiently.

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About the Author

MA, MAppSci, PhD

Dr. Jonathan Foulds is an expert in the field of tobacco addiction.