Not everybody who smokes cigarettes lights up every day.  Almost one in five smokers only smoke during social occasions, such as on weekends or at social events during the week.  Some of these social smokers say they indulge in smoking only occasionally as a means of protecting their health from the destructive forces of everyday smoking.

According to a team of medical researchers from the University of Georgia, social smokers may want to reconsider the health “advantages” of infrequent cigarette smoking.  Their recent work proves social smoking causes damage to arterial health, damage which takes much longer to overcome than even the researchers expected.  Since impaired arterial function is a strong indication that heart disease is likely, the lingering effects of social smoking may be enough to make some occasional smokers kick the habit entirely.

According to the report of their study, published online in the journal, Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology, the Georgia researchers enlisted 18 apparently healthy college students for the study.  Nine of the recruits did not smoke cigarettes and the remaining nine were social smokers, who usually smoked less than a pack of cigarettes per week and had not smoked at all for the two days preceding the test.

Blood flow was measured by placing a blood pressure cuff on the forearms of all recruits, at times for as long as 10 minutes.  When cuffs were rapidly deflated, blood flow in the forearm’s main artery was measured.  The research team wanted to know how fast and effectively the main artery responded when blood flow increased suddenly.

Each study participant underwent blood flow tests at the outset of the study.  The occasional smokers then smoked two cigarettes and were tested again, to detect any short-term changes in blood flow.  Arterial response was diminished, as expected, by about 24% after the two cigarettes.

The Georgia research team acknowledges surprise, however, when initial tests showed the occasional smokers were 36% less responsive to sudden changes in their blood flow than nonsmokers were, even when they’d been cigarette free for more than two days.  This diminished baseline blood flow and the after-smoking decline in function accounted for a 60% decrease in arterial function in the period of time immediately following a social cigarette.