smoking womenHere’s a bottom line that may be tough for some people to swallow: there is no safe smoking level.

A new study warns that even one cigarette a day can shorten your life.  In addition, no matter how long you smoke, the study also advises that the sooner you quit, the more years may be able to get back.

Lead study author Maki Inoue-Choi says that the evidence is pretty clear: there is no safe level. The researcher and epidemiologist at the National Cancer Institute in Rockville, Maryland attributes, “Even smokers who consistently smoked less than one cigarette per day were more likely to die in our study than never smokers.”

Apparently there is a growing number of “light smokers” in America today. These smokers will go through less than half a pack a day. According to the study authors, this used to be a method for cutting back on smoking—gradually reducing the number of cigarettes in a day—but it is actually becoming not just the path to quitting but one more of everyday behavior.

Looking at the study more closely, the researchers tracked nearly 300,000 adults between the ages of 59 and 82. This population included 22,000 current smokers and 156,000 former smokers who all completed surveys between 2004 and 2005.

The study followed their data until 2011 to find that compared against people who have never smoked, adults who had smoked, consistently, at least part of one cigarette a day were still 64 percent more likely to die of any cause.  Indeed, smoking anywhere from one to 10 cigarettes a day was associated with an 87 percent greater risk of death than not smoking at all.

Obviously, lung cancer deaths showed much higher among “light smokers” than non-smokers, at a risk 12 times greater.

Most interestingly, though, the survey found that former smokers who quit at a younger age did better than older smokers who had recently quit. Basically, this means it is never too late to quit.

“The take home message is that all smokers should stop smoking, even if they smoke only occasionally, or if they smoke very few cigarettes a day,” explains University of Geneva researcher Jean-Francois Etter.

At the end of the day, the researchers advise that even if you smoke very little you can greatly improve your health by quitting. Of course, if you are a habitual smoker, now is as good a time as any to call it quits.