“Chipper” is a slang term for heroin users who try to avoid addiction by using small doses occasionally. The term is now being used as well for light, intermittent smokers. Chippers smoke less than five cigarettes a day and don’t smoke every day–usually only on social occasions such as in bars, night clubs or at parties.
With anti-smoking regulations that have come in effect over recent years, light smoking or social smoking is becoming increasingly prevalent. Recent surveys indicate that as many as 15 million Americans now follow that kind of smoking pattern.
The health risks of light and intermittent smoking are not very well studied, but results from prospective studies indicate that they are substantial. How about addiction? Former heavy smokers who try to cut back to light, intermittent smoking may do so for a brief period before going back to their old smoking habits. High school or college students who think they can smoke to look cool are probably fooling themselves if they think they can avoid becoming hooked.
Many cigar smokers fit into the category of intermittent smokers. They smoke for pleasure but not as frequently as the typical pack-a-day cigarette smoker. And most say they don’t inhale.
Cigars contain the same toxins and carcinogens as cigarettes. They have more tobacco, take longer to smoke and generate more smoke per unit. They produce more carbon monoxide per gram and have higher nitrate content. Persons who smoke cigars regularly are vulnerable to the same cancers that afflict cigarette smokers. And those who smoke several cigars a day and inhale deeply have an even higher rate of cardiovascular disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorders.
Many persons who smoke only cigars claim they never inhale, but the smoke has an alkaline pH and nicotine that can be readily absorbed through the mouth and throat. As a result, mortality rates for oral and esophageal cancers are the same for cigar as for cigarette smokers. Cigar smokers who do not inhale have a lower risk of lung and laryngeal cancer, heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
For pipe smoking, there is a similarity in health effects. Anything that cools the smoke, such as meerschaum clay or a water pipe, merely encourages the smoker to inhale more deeply and cause more damage to the lungs and cardiovascular system. If a smoker does not inhale, the nicotine is absorbed through the mouth and throat, altering the health risks but not eliminating them.
No matter how or when you do it, smoking is a dangerous habit and a hard-to-break addiction. While the risk is probably dose dependent, it is substantial at all levels.
Rupp is a certified information and referral specialist on aging for NODA Area Agency on Aging. Contact her at 237-2236.