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It’s Not Even Safe to Smoke One Cigarette a Day

One daily cig can increase your risk of heart disease by about 50 percent

We told you recently that light smoking — smoking fewer than 10 cigarettes a day — increases overall mortality by 87 percent. Smoking even half a cigarette a day still increases overall mortality by 67 percent. If you were holding out hope that someone would eventually produce a single solitary health benefit to smoking tobacco, that day is not today. Because today, we learn what must be the final nail in the smoker’s coffin: An analysis of 141 studies on smoking has found that even just one cigarette a day also increases your risk of heart disease by 48 percent (for men) and 57 percent (for women).

One cigarette, my good man! Just one. Even going from literally 20 cigarettes a day to just one barely makes a dent in improving your health. The study, led by Allan Hackshaw at the UCL Cancer Institute at University College London, tested the logic that so many smokers cling to in order to keep on puffing: surely, if you cut back drastically on smoking to almost no cigarettes a day or only one teeny weeny smoke, you’ll dodge all the bad stuff, right?

Sorry, nope. “We have shown that a large proportion of the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke comes from smoking only a few cigarettes,” Hackshaw wrote of the findings.

It’s becoming increasingly evident that there is never going to be an acceptable way of smoking tobacco that won’t absolutely kill us dead. Yes, we should know that by now. But hear me out: so many other vices we grew up hearing would also kill us dead have actually been proven to either be not that bad, not bad at all, or actually helpful. And as a result, we’ve learned that some so-called very bad things are perfectly okay in moderation and some are even beneficial.

For instance: booze. If you’re a big boozehound, you will most certainly die an early death. But still want to drink without all the premature dying? Good news, friend: If you cut back to just one glass of wine a night — ideally, red — booze is now a good thing with actual health benefits, lowering cardiovascular risk, mortality and incidents of diabetes.

Meat eaters, you’re next: High consumption of cured meats and cooked meats most certainly spells the end for you — research shows eating a ton of red meat is linked to dying from at least eight different diseases. Yet, even Bernard Stewart, the Australian cancer expert who was on the World Health Organization’s committee for meat consumption’s link to cancer, will still eat bacon and salami and ham — even knowing full well it’s linked to colorectal cancer. He and other nutritionists said they are just going to cut back to only eating those foods once a day and ride out their long, healthy, prosperous lifespans.

Now looking at you, weed. What was once believed to be a violent drug that spurred its users to murder and insanity has now become accepted for not just medical use, but everyday recreational use. In 1969, 84 percent of Americans still thought it should be illegal. Today? Some 60 percent of the public wants it the other way. And medical marijuana is legal in some 29 states, and recreational pot is legal in nine, plus Washington, D.C.

It’s not just that weed can treat pain, muscle spasms, nausea, seizures, memory issues, mental health issues and more, but the recreational use isn’t exactly problematic, either. No one likes a complete wastoid, and no one should be driving stoned, either, but studies say daily weed use is totally healthy — at least in the sense that among those who do smoke daily, there was no increase in doctor visits, whether to the ER, or for hospitalizations. Even more remarkably, since weed doesn’t have a known lethal dose, it’s also being used in treating addiction to other substances.

In other words, a little bit of weed is better than a lot of other bad stuff, and cigarettes the worst of all. Americans seem to be getting the picture. In 1965, 42.4 percent of adults were current smokers, according to the CDC. Today, 52 years later, just 16.8 percent of adults do.

Of course, smoking does have a “safer” version, and that would be the much-reviled vaping. But safer in this case is really not safe per se. Most experts say that with vaping, you’re still hooked on nicotine, which is bad for your heart, and the memory and attention of unborn or developing brains. You’re still inhaling other bad chemicals like formaldehyde, and sometimes chemical flavors like those used to flavor popcorn, something you could eat but should not smoke.

Pro-vapers say that because you’re not burning and inhaling as many chemicals as you would with cigarettes vaping is safer, but the jury is still out on how much safer. Depending on who you ask, vaping is somewhere from half as bad, to two-thirds less bad, to maybe 95 percent less dangerous. But that doesn’t make it any good for you. While it helps some people quit traditional cigarettes, other people also smoke old-school cigarettes and vape. E-cigarettes may even just be a gateway smoke for teens to graduate to real smoking.

But still, you’d think we would have figured out a better tweak by now that could turn smoking into an actually healthy activity with some kind of benefits, or at least a version that, when consumed only once a day, would not still kill you so thoroughly dead with such certainty.

That might change: Philip Morris has now introduced what they are calling a safer cigarette that heats but does not burn the tobacco, which should reduce your exposure to the bad stuff. It’s called IQOS (“eyekose”), or “heat sticks,” according to NBC.

It’s a pen that looks like an e-cigarette, but it isn’t, Vox explains. You buy a $79 heater to put the sticks into, which also vaporizes the nicotine, but whereas e-cigarettes use liquid, the IQOS heats up a sheet of ground-up tobacco powder. The temperature is about 350 degrees in there, as opposed to the 600-degree heat off a traditional cigarette you’re sucking down.

Problem is, this is really just a vaping alternative, probably only marginally reducing the risk of inhaling chemicals. That may mean we have an even less harmful cigarette, but it won’t change the facts: Unlike all these other vices you can “life hack” down to something not so bad, in the end, you just really, really shouldn’t smoke.