New Research: Light Smokers Should Be Worried

Pack-a-day smokers aren’t the only ones who should think about “butting out”.

A recent study by Erin O’Loughlin, a PhD candidate in Concordia’s Individualized Program (INDI), emphasizes the need to target both heavy and light smokers in anti-smoking messaging and cessation campaigns. The study, co-authored by Robert J. Wellman, Erika N. Dugas, Annie Montreuil, Hartley Dutczak and Jennifer O’Loughlin, was published in the February 2018 edition of the journal Addictive Behaviors“Light smokers don’t place as much importance on quitting. They identify with non-smokers,” says O’Loughlin, who is also a Concordia public scholar.

“You can be a heavy smoker and perhaps never have repercussions, but you could also be a light smoker who gets cancer, emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Either way, you’re playing the lottery with how much your body can handle.”

In 2015, approximately 19 per cent of young Canadians between the ages of 20 and 24 smoked. That number is too high for O’Loughlin, who recently blogged about her concerns for Concordia.

Study: Ranking reasons to quit

In an attempt to better understand young adults who smoke, O’Loughlin conducted the 22nd survey cycle in the ground-breaking Nicotine Dependence in Teens (NDIT) Study. The study, which began in 1999, follows 1,294 grade-seven students from 10 secondary schools in Montreal.

The most recent survey asked participants, now aged 22 to 28, to rank common reasons for quitting smoking. Not surprisingly, O’Loughlin found that the greatest concern for the majority of young adults related to long-term health risks.

“Interestingly, however, we discovered a group we call ‘discounters,’ who discount the importance of long-term health risks. They didn’t rate any of our reasons to quit smoking as important at all,” says O’Loughlin, who collaborated with lead author Robert J. Wellman on the study.

“Eleven per cent of the discounters, who account for 14.5 per cent of the total sample size, also self-reported nicotine dependence symptoms, yet still don’t think it’s important to quit.”

O’Loughlin notes that the discounters are lights smokers, or so-called social smokers. The study hypothesizes that discounters aren’t concerned about health risks because they identify with non-smokers.

An epic smoking study continues 

The NDIT is a prospective cohort investigation that aims to describe the development of nicotine dependence symptoms among smoking adolescents, and to identify genetic, socio-demographic, psychosocial, and environmental risk factors for the onset of cigarette use.

Using NDIT’s sample base, 311 participants in O’Loughlin’s survey reported having smoked in the last 30 days. They ranked 15 reasons for quitting — such as shortness of breath, coughing, yellow teeth, social disapproval, bad breath and parental concern — ranging from very important to not at all important.

Long-term health ailments were the highest ranked concern.

Tailor messaging to young adult smokers

O’Loughlin hopes that health apps, like those for drinking more water or maintaining good posture, will assist young adults in Canada who are trying to quit smoking.

“Health apps are just one way. Any action that sends cessation messages, or identifies smoking as behaviour and not identity, is promising.”

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