Cutting down offers no benefits to smokers

Smokers who quit on New Year’s and are now trying to convince themselves that “cutting back” is perhaps the better option should take a second look before that first puff. According to a recently published Mayo Clinic study, heavy cigarette smokers who cut back their smoking (rather than quit) might not see any health benefits at all.

“Many people — smokers and medical professionals alike — assume that if smokers can simply cut back, there will be some health benefits,” says Richard Hurt, M.D., a physician who treats patients at Mayo Clinic’s Nicotine Dependence Center. “Our results didn’t show that.”

The study included 23 heavy smokers who tried to gradually cut back to 10 cigarettes a day over a nine-week period. Participants received information and counseling, and also used a nicotine inhaler to help them reduce their desire for cigarettes.

At the end of 12 weeks, researchers measured several “biomarkers” in each participant
that indicate harm from cigarettes. Only one biomarker improved, while four stayed the same (no health benefits) and one became worse. The smokers also found it difficult to reach their smoking reduction goals, with only twoble to cut back to 10 cigarettes a day.

“The study found that cutting back on cigarettes isn’t easy, even with help, and the health benefits are unclear,” says Dr. Hurt.

This isn’t news for most smokers who have tried to cut down. In most cases, it simply doesn’t work. What’s worse, the study shows that even those who are able to reduce their smoking significantly aren’t receiving any health benefits anyway.

“Heavy smokers who use nicotine replacement therapy and receive counseling and support can stop smoking,” says Dr. Hurt. “And when smokers stop, there are measurable and almost immediate health benefits.” Among them, not having to look at the disgusting warning labels now prominent on Canadian cigarette packages.