Smoking harms your health, no matter what time of day you light up. But if cigarettes are part of your morning routine, the risks are even greater. Scientists from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and Penn State College of Medicine have found that people who smoke soon after waking may put themselves at higher risk of cancer than other smokers.

The researchers studied 4,775 smokers with lung cancer and 2,835 smokers without cancer, and reported their findings in the journal Cancer. They found that among current smokers, people who smoked within the first half-hour of waking were 1.79 times more likely to develop lung cancer than those who waited at least an hour before lighting up.

Smokers who waited between 31 and 60 minutes before smoking their first cigarette of the day were 1.31 times more likely to develop lung cancer than those who waited an hour.

The researchers also conducted another study focused on head and neck cancer. They compared 1,055 people with head and neck cancer to 795 who were cancer-free. All individuals had a history of smoking.

Those who had their first cigarette in the first 30 minutes of waking in the morning were 59 percent more likely to develop a cancerous head or neck tumor than those who waited longer than an hour. Those who smoked between 31 and 60 minutes after waking had a 42 percent higher risk than those who waited an hour.

If you smoke first thing in the morning, these findings suggest you may be at higher risk of lung, head, and neck cancer.

The lead researcher in the study, Dr. Joshua Muscat, suggests that early morning smokers may be more addicted to nicotine than smokers who wait longer to have their first cigarette. He also suggests they have higher levels of nicotine and other toxins from cigarettes in their bodies. Similarly, Professor Robert West, Director of Tobacco Studies at the Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Research Centre, University College London, states that, “smokers who light up soon after waking tend to smoke each cigarette more intensively.”

He proposes that smoking earlier in the day means more total exposure to smoking throughout the day. The more smoke exposure a person has the more cancer-causing chemicals enter their body.

A combination of genetic and personal factors may affect your dependence on nicotine. If you're an early morning smoker, talk to your doctor about starting a smoking cessation program that targets morning smoking to help cut your risk. Excluding your first smoke of the day can bring you one step closer to quitting altogether.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking harms nearly every organ in your body. It causes many diseases and reduces your overall level of health. It can also put the people around you at risk from second-hand smoke.

The length of time you wait before smoking your first cigarette of the day may be linked to your level of nicotine dependence and smoke intake. It may also affect your risk of multiple types of cancers.

Delaying your first smoke of the day is a great first step to improving your lifestyle. But the ultimate goal is to quit smoking altogether. When you quit smoking, you'll experience immediate benefits, as well as long-term ones.

Put in the effort: It's not easy to quit smoking because nicotine is addictive. Once you've made up your mind to quit, take steps to face the challenge head on.

Talk to your doctor: Ask your doctor about tools and strategies to help you quit. They may recommend nicotine replacement therapy, prescription medication, one-on-one counseling, group therapy, or a combination of these treatments.

Avoid any and all cigarettes: Even occasional smoking is harmful. Cigarettes labeled "light," "filtered," or "low-tar" are just as dangerous and addictive as regular cigarettes.

Remember, you're not alone: There are more ex-smokers than current smokers in the United States, reports the CDC. If they can quit, you can too!

Talk to your doctor to learn more about strategies and tools to help you quit for good.