How many cigarettes is too many cigarettes
April 1, 2010 2:31 PM   Subscribe

Is one cigarette a day going to kill me?

I used to smoke a half a pack a day. That was five years ago, and I had the habit for about three years. I quit cold turkey and don't remember it being too hard, but I have been craving cigarettes lately for some reason. I don't know anyone who smokes and am not subject to second hand smoke, so it's not that. I also don't frequent any places that other people smoke (it is illegal to smoke indoors in public places in my state).

Assuming I can keep it to one cigarette a day, can I start smoking again? What is the threshold for smoking and health? I have a feeling that one is much worse than zero, but what about one every other day? One every three or four days?

Citations and actual medical information are what I am looking for. I don't need to be chided for smoking. I'm an adult and I know that it's bad for me. I also know that it makes me stink. But is one a day really going to kill me?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Sure can.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 2:34 PM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Beware the slippery slope.
posted by lobstah at 2:35 PM on April 1, 2010

All judgment aside, I guess my question is why you would do just one a day. It seems like you'd be walking kind of a fine line between "just one -- why not zero?" and "just one -- why not two or three?" Addiction can be kind of an all or nothing situation either way.

Here! For more specific medical info, have a link to the Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention!
posted by Madamina at 2:36 PM on April 1, 2010

You will probably not die from smoking one cigarette a day. This is how much I smoke. I have asked my doctor this. However, you increase your liklihood of getting various cancers, a little. Risk assessment is what you need to do. The same is true for eating char-broiled meats or working at a dry cleaner. There is no safe amount to smoke. Also doctors and other health care professionals generally don't believe you when you say you only smoke one a day, they assume you smoke more, or that you will ramp up to smoking more because honestly that's what most people who smoke do.

So, congrats for you for quitting smoking generally. I'd be leery of starting again at any level. If you're looking for citations, this recent study on occasional smokers basically says that even occasionally smoking comes with elevated risks of certain cancers.
posted by jessamyn at 2:40 PM on April 1, 2010

Probably not!

Only about half of all lifelong smokers die from smoking related diseases. So, since you've already quit for a while and are talking about smoking only one a day or so, surely your risk is less than that. Better than the flip of a coin.

On the other hand, your risk is non-zero. After all, you accidentally fall asleep while smoking and burn yourself to death. Or you could see something shocking while you have a cigarette in your mouth and then choke to death. Not to mention that even as few as 100 cigarettes over the course of a lifetime can measurably increase the risk of certain types of cancer.
posted by 256 at 2:47 PM on April 1, 2010

There were recently a bunch of articles on how just inhaling second hand smoke can increase the "stickiness" of your blood and make it more likely for you to have a heart attack. This article refers to this work and also states:

"A substantial body of epidemiological and laboratory data indicates that, unlike the case with lung cancer, the risk of acute myocardial infarction and coronary heart disease associated with exposure to tobacco smoke is non-linear at low doses, increasing rapidly with relatively small doses such as those received from secondhand smoke or actively smoking one or two cigarettes a day."

I wouldn't do it, but then I'm not a smoker. If people in your family seem to get lung cancer rather than heart disease, I guess you could discount this evidence a little. But if heart disease is already a problem in your family, I sure wouldn't smoke.
posted by parkerjackson at 3:01 PM on April 1, 2010

If you are craving cigarettes, and you don't want to start the journey back to a pack a day, DO NOT SMOKE EVEN ONE CIGARETTE! This is the nasty part of addiction - that little voice that tries to get you to rationalize returning to your habit. Maybe 1 cigarette a day won't kill you, but a pack a day is certainly more likely to do so. One cigarette now will almost certainly become 20. (and yes, I smoke, and I've quit before)
posted by The Light Fantastic at 3:12 PM on April 1, 2010 [4 favorites]

Years ago (about 25), my doctor told me that if I could cut down to two or three a day, that it would be fine. I might have believed him then. I don't now.

I have been smoke free for just over ten years. (Yippie!) Those two heart attacks, six days apart kind of convinced me.

If you quit and have stayed that way for some time, why go back? I wouldn't.
posted by Drasher at 3:13 PM on April 1, 2010

As others have said, the big danger here is that one-a-day will become two-a-day and then three-a-day, and pretty soon you'll be back to your original smoking rate.

If you quit, you have to quit completely, forever, with no exceptions. None. No "special occasions".
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:16 PM on April 1, 2010

I once had a medical science lecturer who, with coarse grain salt added according to taste and with somewhat of a shrug of reluctance, told us that "smoking no more than two cigarettes a day won't do you unreasonable harm"...

i guess it comes down to your definition of what unreasonable harm is...

me personally, i don't think i could really stop at just the one... but then, i'm like that- can't just go dipping my toes in the water, i got to hurl myself heaving into the churning belly of the cruel blue sea..
posted by Philby at 3:33 PM on April 1, 2010

Assuming I can keep it to one cigarette a day

You can't. You are still thinking about them 5 years after quitting -- you can't.
posted by whiskeyspider at 3:39 PM on April 1, 2010 [6 favorites]

For about 15 years, I was a somewhat light but habitual smoker, and certainly smoked more than one per day, topping out at about half a pack a day.

I cut back to one per day or fewer. For years. Without it being a hardship. Seriously, for real. Honest.

(I've since quit completely. You may find that you don't actually enjoy smoking as much as you thought you would.)
posted by desuetude at 4:01 PM on April 1, 2010

Mr. Llama and I both smoke occasionally, on very special occasions. Maybe two or three times a year. One is a yearly trip into the mountains with some other couples to drink and smoke. One night of delicious, delicious smoking. We have a couple of friends who we see occasionally who are like big smoking sirens and it's impossible to not smoke around them, as they make it seem so delicious.

I offer this, the 'smoking holiday,' as an alternative to 'one a day'.

Fair warning that it makes you crabby as hell for about two weeks afterward. Stuff's addictive!
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:02 PM on April 1, 2010

Assuming I can keep it to one cigarette a day

You can't. You are still thinking about them 5 years after quitting -- you can't.

I did. I smoked about half a pack a day for years, then three a day (one after each meal), then one a day for at least a year. Now I smoke one or two a week if I'm out drinking with friends, and that's it.

One of the reasons I quit was annoyance at both smokers and non-smokers who would chastise me with, "You only smoke one a day? Why don't you just quit!?!"

To me it was like having a little piece of chocolate after a meal. It was a treat. But no one seemed to believe me.
posted by Evangeline at 4:51 PM on April 1, 2010

See, this is the slippery slope I mentioned before.. Your question was framed in such a way as to invite anecdotes :

Aunt Judy had a glass of sherry and a cigarette every night at 6:00 PM, and she lived to be 107 !

I smoke a whole pack every New Year's Eve !

As others have stated, if you are thinking about them after 5 years, you got the Jones...Don't bet your life on a virtual nicotine rush.
posted by lobstah at 5:28 PM on April 1, 2010

I always tell people that quitting smoking isn't so hard--after ten years, you won't think about smoking at all. Well, that's how long it took for me to be totally smoking-urge free. It sounds like a long time, but you will be doing other things in that time, and (especially if you do stop smoking) you will likely live long enough that ten years is just an episode.

There are people who are non-addictive smokers. I had a roommate who liked to smoke at parties. She would buy a pack before a party, and then it would stay in her handbag until the cigarettes got dry and stale. As a smoker, I didn't really mind dry and stale much.

But as one of the 90-or-so percent of smokers who do become addicted, zero is the only safe number of smokes per day, week, or century--anything else is backsliding. I backslid several times in those ten years, but re-quitting was always much easier that the nightmarish first quit.

Also, smoking makes you smell bad to the few of us who have a working sense of smell. If you sit next to me on the bus, I will look at you funny, and may change my seat. You don't want that.
posted by hexatron at 5:29 PM on April 1, 2010

See also.

Many people will experience a slippery slope back to heavy smoking if they have one or two. However, some people won't. (Anecdote warning:) I used to smoke regularly, up to a couple of packs per week. For the last few years, I've managed to smoke a few cigarettes here and there, with pauses for weeks without one; on vacation, I smoke to my heart's content (!), and when I come back I make sure that I stop for a couple of weeks. So it is possible, depending on how sensitive your body is to nicotine addition.

So, suppose you can manage to stay at 1-7 cigarettes per week. You are definitely increasing the risk of something bad happening; but, the question is by how much? An order of magnitude? Enough for it to make a difference? It's possible that changes to your diet or the type of car you drive would have a greater impact on your life than smoking a little here and there. There are many things you choose to do that will statistically reduce your life expectancy, which you gladly do for a little more enjoyment in your life (I'm thinking of eating steak, driving a car, or going skiing for example).

(On preview: Yeah, one of the biggest drawbacks is the stink. When you smoke regularly, you don't realize how much you stink. As soon as you have one smoke, you reek and everyone within metres of you can smell it. Anyone you go near or kiss for the next 12 hours will know that you smoked that day, so don't plan on hiding it from your SO.)
posted by Simon Barclay at 5:49 PM on April 1, 2010

Mod note: comment removed, a little less of the all-star judgeme machine and a little more of the helpful please. go home and grar there.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:05 PM on April 1, 2010

I don't know enough to tell you how healthy or unhealthy it is to smoke a certain number of cigarettes, but I'd like to comment on how to frame the question.

My understanding is that cigarettes don't become significantly less risky depending on how you space them out; what matters is your lifetime total of cigarettes. So, the question is: How unhealthy is it to smoke 365.25 cigarettes a year? Or, how unhealthy is it to smoke 3,652.5 cigarettes a decade?

Thousands per decade sounds like an awful lot of cigarettes to me. If you keep going like that for 30 years, you've smoked over 10,000 cigarettes.

(This is all assuming for the sake of argument that you'll keep it at exactly one a day and never be tempted by the thought that, well, if one a day is OK, then two a day should also be OK ... and if two a day is OK ... etc.)

Again, I don't have the expertise to want to sit here and opine on the exact health consequences of doing this. But if people's doctors are telling them that smoking thousands of cigarettes is OK health-wise, well, I find that a little surprising.
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:39 PM on April 1, 2010

I think your energy would be better spent trying to figure out why you're suddenly craving again. Some kind of familiar stress resurfacing? A particular person moving in your circles again? Work on that angle. Really, don't even have the one.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:49 PM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I didn't read all the replies, so I don't know if this was mentioned, but google e-cigarettes. If you are going to start smoking again, I feel this might be the best way to do it.
posted by irishcoffee at 7:53 PM on April 1, 2010

Smoking doesn't kill you, it just dramatically increases your odds of dying from certain diseases. If you smoke one a day instead of ten, your risk is still incremementally higher that it would be if you had never smoked. Since you used to smoke, your chances are already increased. If you quit smoking that one cig, your risk will be as low as it can possibly be, that is to say, high.
posted by klanawa at 8:03 PM on April 1, 2010

It's probably not going to kill you. But do note that "I'll just have one" is one of the biggest lies we ever tell ourselves. Better not to go there.
posted by ErikaB at 8:56 PM on April 1, 2010

Yes, because it will ultimately become more than one cigarette a day.

Quit now, while you still can.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:20 PM on April 1, 2010

Personal experience. Quit cold turkey after years of a pack a day. Not a single cigarette for almost 3 years. Go on holiday with a friend, one evening we're on the beach drinking a mojito, he lights a cigarette and I decide "let's have one".

After that single one, I was back to half a pack a day in less than 2 weeks.

The thing is, when you break the rule once then it's easier to justify to yourself every other time. I am a very addictive personality (i hope it means what i mean) so that counts too.

Any day now my gf can have our first daughter, she quit when she got pregnant and I'd like to quit too. It wasn't hard when i quit cold turkey a few years ago, but it was SO MUCH EASIER to get back into the habit. Now i try to tell myself "only one a day" but deep inside i know it won't happen.
posted by madeinitaly at 12:36 AM on April 2, 2010

The way I heard it explained, there is no threshold. 1 cigarette provides 1 cigarette's worth of risk. It's obviously a smaller risk than 10 or 100 cigarettes, but it's greater than 0.

I am not an addictive smoker (I've had 2-3 cigs a day for periods then 1 a week then 1 a month with no struggle -- it's just not my thing) but from my reading on addiction in general, I'd suggest that there's less evidence for the whole "If you have 1 you'll have 100!" abstinence-only argument than people think there is. In fact, it can be counterproductive because it gives you an excuse to go nuts once you have one cigarette (or drink or whatever.)

So take that with a grain of salt. Although obviously you have to be honest with yourself. If you think it likely that 1 will lead to 10 and 100, just avoid the 1.
posted by callmejay at 6:13 AM on April 2, 2010

What clinched my freedom from cigarettes (nine years now) was the gross feeling I got from smoking just one or two after a long period of abstinence. Eventually, I began to associate "just one" with aches, raspy throat, and a general gross feeling -- and that convinced my addiction centers or whatever that I was truly done.

Of course, if you start having more than one or two, you are well and truly on the way to five or eight or fifteen. Be careful.
posted by teedee2000 at 8:10 AM on April 2, 2010

I quit cold turkey years ago, and every once in a great while I'll have a smoke. I've never been seized with a desire to smoke more.

Counter argument for me would be: I i had one cigarette every day, my clothes and hair would smell of smoke, yet I'd only be having one cigarette "worth" of enjoyment.

It's like if I only had one drink a day, but is was rum and I spilled it on my face.
posted by French Fry at 8:19 AM on April 2, 2010

Assuming I can keep it to one cigarette a day

You can't. You are still thinking about them 5 years after quitting -- you can't.

Probably, but that does not answer the question. Any answer that does not assume the OP keeps it to one a day is not answering the question. He isn't asking if you think it's a good idea.
posted by spaltavian at 2:13 PM on April 2, 2010

I quit smoking in 1989 and didn't have even one until a Christmas party three years later. Then I had one or two a month for the next six years, until I quit again, totally. Twelve years later, I still have an occasional, fleeting urge to smoke. But the one thing I learned in the nineties was that if I have one cigarette, I'll want another for every waking minute until I have another. I know that's how it will play out if I ever have another one.

I don't know what the health issues are with one per day. But if you're like me, you'll want one for twenty three hours of every day until you give in and have your one cigarette.

My name is faceonmars and I'm an addict.
posted by faceonmars at 6:33 PM on April 3, 2010

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