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Smoking Effects: Lung Damage Persists Even Years After Quitting

“Smoking a few cigarettes a day is much riskier than a lot of people think.”

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A new study published in the journal “The Lancet Respiratory Medicine” has found that the effects of smoking remain even after you stopped it years ago.

The study discovered that light and heavy smokers continue to suffer from long-term lung damage even if they have quit smoking.

Researchers found that a person is vulnerable to the long-term effects of smoking if he/she smokes even less than five cigarettes per day. They also found that light smokers have lung damage similar to that of heavy smokers.

Lead study author and assistant professor at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeon Dr. Elizabeth Oelsner said, “Many people assume that smoking a few cigarettes a day isn’t so bad but it turns out that the difference in loss of lung function between someone who smokes five cigarettes a day versus two packs a day is relatively small.”

The study analyzed data from over 25,000 participants that included people who actively smoked, who stopped, and who never smoked.

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The researchers examined the changes in their lung function and found that the effects of smoking decreased the lung function of both light smokers and heavy smokers at an almost similar rate, meaning the two groups had a similar degree of lung damage.

Dr. Oelsner explained, “Smoking a few cigarettes a day is much riskier than a lot of people think. Everyone should be strongly encouraged to quit smoking, no matter how many cigarettes per day they are using.”

Most people think that smoking a few cigarettes a day does not have much impact on their lungs. However, it is important to know that light smokers, just like heavy smokers, are at a greater risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPDs), such as bronchitis, emphysema, asthma, and bronchiectasis.

COPDs have been linked to serious conditions such as lung cancer, heart disease, and pulmonary arterial hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs). Dr. Oelsner explained that light smokers are at a risk of developing COPDs and there is a need for new interventions to reduce the risk. Although quitting smoking help prevent health issues, the researchers found that the effects of smoking might continue to persist for more than 30 years of quitting.

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