WASHINGTON — Researchers are discovering an interesting trend among young adult women who smoke: they are very light smokers, meaning they smoke fewer than five cigarettes per day.
A team at the University of Texas at Austin studied data on 9,789 women between the ages of 18 and 25 who took part in the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
Their findings, which are published online by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, show these very light smokers tend to be at the young end of the age bracket, to be from a minority group, and to have some college education.
“In a sense this is great news,” says Joanna Cohen, Ph.D, director of the Institute for Global Tobacco Control at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
She says it is good that these women are smoking less, but at the same time, “there are cautions because we know that every cigarette is harmful.”
Cohen notes the researchers found these young women are more aware of the risks of cigarette use than heavier smokers, which could be one reason why they are watching their intake.
“They understand there are health impacts but think if they don’t use cigarettes all that much, it can’t be that harmful,” she says.
Another potential problem is this light smoking could just be the beginning. The habit could evolve over time as these young women age to heavier smoking.
That may be one of the reasons why light smoking is far more common among women than men in the 18-25 age bracket. Men tend to start smoking earlier, moving on to regular tobacco use by their late teens.
Cohen also says that female smokers in general smoke fewer cigarettes a day than men and tend to be more health conscious.