Answer: It’s better to smoke a little than it is to smoke a lot. It’s also better to have a small lung cancer than a big lung cancer, but why have either? Still, as much as we want you to quit completely, the truth is cutting back will help decrease certain health risks more than others. For example: the risks of various types of lung disease are directly proportional to how much a person smokes. When it comes to the cardiovascular risks (heart attack and stroke), things are a little less clear. There appears to be benefit in smoking less, but the relationship is not linear. In other words, cutting down from a pack a day to half a pack a day will probably decrease your risk for heart attack and stroke, but it won’t cut it in half.
One other thing, when you want to quit, tapering just isn’t as good as quitting cold turkey. In one study, participants quit smoking abruptly or they reduced smoking gradually by 75% in the 2 weeks before quitting. Each group received behavioral support and nicotine replacement before and after the quit date. At 6 months, 22% of those who quit cold turkey were tobacco free while only 15.5% of those who tapered first were smoke free. The authors concluded, “Quitting smoking abruptly is more likely to lead to lasting abstinence than cutting down first, even for smokers who initially prefer to quit by gradual reduction.”
So, on your next try, consider going cold turkey and not just tapering from where you are now. Also, take what you have learned about what makes it so hard to quit. Examine your patterns and see when you have the greatest urge to smoke. Is it when you are stressed, in your car, on a walk, during work breaks, after work, with a drink, after sex, with morning coffee, or when people around you smoke? This knowledge will help you develop ways to avoid the temptation or to deal with it when it occurs.
This information is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.