Countless studies demonstrate the virtues of complete smoking cessation, including a lowered risk of disease, increased life expectancy, and an improved quality of life. But health professionals acknowledge that quitting altogether can be a long and difficult road, and only a small percentage succeed.
Every day, doctors are confronted with patients who either cannot or will not quit, says Vicki Myers, a researcher at Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine. To address this reality, Myers and her fellow researchers, Dr. Yariv Gerber and Prof. Uri Goldbourt of TAU's School of Public Health, examined survival and life expectancy rates of smokers who reduced their cigarette consumption instead of quitting entirely. Their data covered an unusually long period of over 40 years.
While quitters were found to have the biggest improvement in mortality rates - a 22 percent reduced risk of an early death, compared to smokers who maintained their smoking intensity - reducers also saw significant benefits, with a 15 percent reduced risk. These results show that smoking less is a valid risk reduction strategy, Myers says, adding that formerly heavy smokers had the most to gain from smoking reduction.
This research has been published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
Cutting down for a longer life
To examine the impact of changes in smoking intensity over time, the researchers drew on a sub-cohort of the Israeli Ischemic Heart Disease Study, comprising a database of 4,633 Israeli working males, all smokers at baseline, with a median age of 51 at recruitment. Interviews regarding their smoking habits took place in 1963 and again in 1965, and participants' mortality status was followed for a period of up to 40 years.
During their first interview, participants were placed in categories by daily cigarette consumption - no cigarettes, 1-10 cigarettes, 11-20 cigarettes, and more than 21. In the second interview, researchers noted whether an individual had increased, maintained, reduced, or ceased smoking during the intervening two years, with "increasing" or "reducing" defined as moving up or down at least one category of cigarette consumption within this range.