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"Smoking, even at low levels and intermittently, carries significant health risks, such as cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases and an increased risk of lung cancer," says Carole K. Holahan. (Credit: iStockphoto)

smoking

Many young women say they’re ‘very light smokers’

While smoking has declined in the past 20 years, nearly 1 in 5 women between the ages of 18 and 25 call themselves “very light smokers.”

“Very light” smoking is defined as five or fewer cigarettes per day.

“Smoking, even at low levels and intermittently, carries significant health risks, such as cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases and an increased risk of lung cancer,” says Carole K. Holahan, professor of kinesiology and health education at University of Texas at Austin and associate faculty in the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies.

Light smoking and other risks

For the study, published in the journal Preventing Chronic Diseases, researchers used data on 9,789 women in emerging adulthood from the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health in the United States to compare social and psychological features of very light smokers with those of women at other smoking levels.

Very light smokers made up more than 60 percent of the young female smokers surveyed. When researchers considered characteristics separately, very light smokers were more likely than other smokers to be younger (18 to 20), single, from a minority group, and have some college education.

“Risky behavior is common in young adults; however, emerging adulthood is an important developmental stage, particularly for women’s reproductive health,” Holahan says. “Cigarette use before or during pregnancy poses threats to maternal and child health.”

As with light and heavier smokers, very light smokers were more likely than nonsmokers to report past-month psychological distress and substance use, as well as lifetime depression. Very light smoking was also associated with higher risk of binge drinking.

Getting them to quit

Compared with heavier smokers, very light smokers recognized the risks of smoking and were less likely to report signs of nicotine dependence or smoke daily.

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“There may be several pathways to very light smoking among women in emerging adulthood, such as the cost of cigarettes, weekend partying in college, emotional distress, and multiple substance use,” says graduate researcher Xioyin Li, a health behavior and health education graduate student.

Knowing the prevalence of very light smoking in our society will help health care providers and educators screen and prevent tobacco use, Holahan says. “The profile of very light smokers looked more promising for smoking cessation interventions than that of other smokers.

“Smoking intervention programs and policies directed at emerging-adult women need to be based on an understanding of the diverse characteristics of this population.”

Source: University of Texas at Austin

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