Smokers are refusing to kick the habit because they believe the damaging health effects won’t hit until later in life, a new study suggests.
The first-of-its-kind research surveyed 162 smokers and non-smokers on their understanding of the onset of negative health conditions linked to smoking. It found that, on average, smokers thought both mild and severe smoking-related conditions would occur later in life than non-smokers.
The findings highlight a lack of understanding on the negative effects of smoking and how rapidly damage can be caused to the body, the researchers said.
While there might be an element of denial over when the damaging effects kick in, there’s no denying that smoking is the primary cause of preventable illness and death in the UK, causing an estimated 79,000 deaths every year.
Smoking increases a person’s risk of developing more than 50 serious health conditions. It is responsible for about 90% of lung cancers, according to the NHS, and also causes cancer in many other parts of the body - from the mouth to the pancreas. It can also severely limit heart health leading to heart disease, heart attack, stroke and more.
Latest figures from the NHS show that 474,000 hospital admissions are attributable to smoking, placing an enormous burden on the health service.
For the latest study, researchers from the University of Milano-Bicocca and the University of Surrey asked smokers and non-smokers to estimate the timings of when smoking-related conditions might develop in a person who started smoking 10 cigarettes a day at 18 years old.
Smoking-related conditions were categorised as mild, such as yellow teeth and bad breath, and severe, such as lung cancer or stroke.
Smokers believed both mild and severe smoking-related conditions would occur later in life than non-smokers. But the reality is that every cigarette a person smokes is harmful and will begin to affect them there and then.
Dr Patrice Rusconi from the University of Surrey, Social Emotions and Equality in Relations (SEER) research group, said: “The adverse consequences of smoking are well documented, but what we have found is that smokers perceive such hazards to be further in the future compared to those who don’t smoke.
“This distorted perception is incredibly dangerous for those who do smoke, and may lead people to delay quitting smoking or screening for smoking-related conditions, increasing their risk of developing a serious illness.”
In response to the findings, Deborah Arnott, chief executive of health charity Action on Smoking and Health, told HuffPost UK: “For smokers who can’t quit it’s very stressful to worry about the damage their smoking does them. The easiest way to cope is to deny the risks. Not only do smokers think it takes longer for disease to develop than is actually the case, but they also think the risks of deadly diseases like cancer, respiratory and heart disease ever happening are exaggerated.
“The good news is that measures to reduce tobacco use like anti-smoking campaigns and warnings on the packs do work on many smokers and smoking rates continue to fall.”