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Occasional Smoking Still Does Damage

FRIDAY, Oct. 17 -- Even if you only sneak an occasional smoke, you are still doing damage to your arteries, a new study shows.

University of Georgia researchers using ultrasound found that the arteries of otherwise young, healthy adults who smoked less than a pack a week were 36 percent less responsive to changes in blood flow than nonsmokers, even if it had been days since their last cigarette.

This lack of responsiveness, known as impaired flow-mediated dilation, is an early sign of the arterial damage that typically foreshadows the development of cardiovascular disease.

"Most people know that if they have a cigarette or two over the weekend that it's not good for their arteries," study co-author Kevin McCully, a professor of kinesiology, said in a university news release. "But what they may not be aware of, and what our study shows, is that the decrease in function persists into the next week, if not longer."

The findings were published in the early online edition of Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology.

The researchers recruited 18 college students for their study, half of whom were nonsmokers. The smokers had less than a pack a week and had not smoked for at least two days before testing. After their initial test, the occasional smokers had two cigarettes before having their arteries re-examined. At that point, there was another 24 percent drop in responsiveness compared to before they smoked.

McCully said further research is needed to figure out if the impaired arterial function is a relatively short-term phenomenon or not.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about smoking and tobacco use.

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Posted: October 2008