Smoking the odd cigarette when out with friends may seem relatively harmless, but a new study suggests that it can be as dangerous for the heart as an everyday habit.
US researchers found that the the risk of high blood pressure and worrying cholesterol was the same for social smokers as those who light up every day.
More than 10 per cent of the 39,000 people surveyed said they were ‘social smokers’ compared with 17 per cent who said they smoked daily.
The study found that around 75 per cent of both groups had high blood pressure, while 54 per cent had high cholesterol.
“Not smoking at all is the best way to go. Even smoking in a social situation is detrimental to your cardiovascular health,” said lead author Dr Kate Gawlik assistant professor of clinical nursing at Ohio State University.
“One in 10 people in this study said they sometimes smoke, and many of them are young and already on the path to heart disease.”
Smoking is a risk factor for unhealthy blood pressure and cholesterol and both are significant contributors to cardiovascular disease, the leading killer of men and women worldwide.
Senior study author Bernadette Melnyk said doctors and nurses should try to identify social smokers and offer them advice and tools to quit smoking.
“These are striking findings and they have such significance for clinical practice and for population health,” she said.
“This has been a fairly neglected part of the population. We know that regular smoking is an addiction, but providers don’t usually ask about social smoking.
“Are you a smoker?” isn’t likely to work with social smokers, because they don’t think of themselves as addicted.”
Participants in the study were screened from February 2012 to February 2016 as part of Ohio State’s Million Hearts educational programme and asked to identify themselves as nonsmokers, current smokers or social smokers. The screenings also included measures of blood pressure and total cholesterol.
Social smokers were more likely to be under 40, and male.
Dr Gawlik and Dr Melnyk said those who consider themselves social smokers should be aware that the toll on their cardiovascular health could be just as great as if they smoked every day.
The research was published in the American Journal of Health Promotion.