Woman smoker smoking a filter tip cigarette with her hand resting on a slatted wooden table with copy space, close up view

    Social smokers ‘have the same heart risk as regular smokers’

    4 May 2017

    Social smokers have the same risk of high blood pressure and cholesterol as those who smoke every day, according to new research by Ohio State University.

    The study, which has been published in the American Journal of Health Promotion, finds that 75 per cent of smokers had high blood pressure and 54 per cent had high cholesterol.

    More than 10 per cent of the study’s 39,555 participants identified themselves as social smokers. They were given a physical examination between February 2012 and February 2016.

    Social smokers in the study were more likely to be young (between 21 and 40 years old) and male. Having accounted for other health and demographic factors, the researchers found no difference in the risk of hypertension or high cholesterol facing social smokers as compared with more regular tobacco users.

    Kate Gawlik, the study’s lead author, said: ‘Not smoking at all is the best way to go. Even smoking in a social situation is detrimental to your cardiovascular health.

    ‘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.’

    The researchers said that clinicians working with smokers should be aware that cutting back on smoking isn’t good enough from a heart-health perspective.

    ‘Doctors and nurses need to educate patients that social smoking is still a major health risk and is not a long-term healthy choice,’ Gawlik said.

    Instant analysis
    It’s actually fairly unusual to read new data about smoking. Its harmful effects are something that we have taken as read for quite some time now. While we GPs do congratulate people for cutting down on smoking, the party line remains that the healthiest option is not to smoke at all.

    This study looks at the development of high blood pressure and cholesterol in current smokers, non-smokers and social smokers. It took into account demographic and biometric differences, but the development of high blood pressure and cholesterol is highly complex and, although this demonstrates a correlation, causation may well be more multi-factorial. For example, a social smoker may also drink more, eat out more, sleep less, have a stressful job etc, and they may also have previously been a regular smoker — interestingly, previous smoking behaviour was not accounted for here.

    What this study particularly highlights, however, is the potential to miss important smoking data when counselling social smokers. We often ask patients if they are smokers or ex-smokers, but we may not be clarifying the question enough to pick up the social smokers who are also at risk.
    Research score: 3/5