Part-time smokers who believe they are saving themselves from the damage caused by cigarettes are 'fooling themselves', according to researchers at the British Heart Foundation.
According to BHF doctors, so-called 'social smokers' treble their risk of developing heart disease, even if they smoke just one a day.
The study of 3,525 part-time smokers found that only a quarter of the respondents were worried about harming their health, despite a habit that included an average of 37 cigarettes a week. Yet the BHF warned that between one and four cigarettes significantly increased the risk of heart disease, while lung cancer rates were raised in women puffing on at least one a day.
More than one in three of those quizzed claimed the occasional cigarette offered stress relief, while one in five said it helped them to socialise. Only one in seven admitted to feeling addicted to smoking.
Dr Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, told the Daily Mail: "This research shows that many part-time and social smokers are still smoking enough every week to put their lives on the line.
"We need people to face up to the deadly risk they're taking from social or part-time smoking. There is no safe level for smoking - the evidence is unequivocal - and I was surprised at the effect."
Dr Knapton had this advice for anyone looking to quit the habit. "The science of stopping tell us that there is no single method that works for everyone but there are things that will make lasting success more likely. That includes getting free professional advice from a trained stop-smoking advisor through the NHS."
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