Social smoking has become a way of justifying a cigarette here and there, but the detrimental effects on the body are just as real as for those who light up regularly, writes Katie Clift.

Most of us know one or two social smokers. They smoke occasionally, are less likely to light up alone, and often do so when drinking alcohol. Many don’t consider themselves addicted to nicotine, and most think that they’re less likely to suffer smoking-related illness and disease than heavy smokers.

However, new evidence has revealed less frequent smokers still face double the risk of death compared to non-smokers.

Smokers who smoke a few times a week are likely to die 10 years earlier than average, while smokers who smoke fewer than 14 cigarettes a day face double the risk of death of non-smokers.

Even those who cut back to between one and four cigarettes a day remain at risk of dying from a tobacco-related disease.

Many of us aren’t fully aware of how harmful even occasional or social smoking can be, but the health warnings are no exaggeration – if you’re a smoker, every cigarette is doing you damage.

Smoking at any frequency is a risk to a person’s short and long term health, and so is second-hand smoke.

Exposure to passive smoke raises a person’s risk of heart disease, lung cancer and respiratory conditions, and can cause asthma, SIDS and allergic respiratory diseases in children.

Fact: two in three Australian smokers will die from their habit. It’s a tragic statistic that underlies the enormous cost of smoking on our lives. In addition to the heartbreaking personal toll of tobacco-related illness and disease, the economic toll on taxpayers is about $6 billion annually. And that’s just in Queensland.

The benefits of quitting smoking, even as a light smoker, are immediate – even for those who already suffer health problems.

12 hours after stopping smoking, the level of carbon monoxide in your blood drops dramatically. After 72 hours, your sense of taste and smell improve.

From two weeks, lung function and circulation improves, and from one month coughing and shortness of breath decrease.

If you are a light, social or occasional smoker – don’t let the habit kill you – QUIT now.

Call the Quitline on 13 QUIT (13 7848) or go to www.cancerqld.org.au to make a healthy change.