Your body gets more than nicotine when you smoke a cigarette.
There are more than 4,000 chemicals in cigarette smoke. Some of them are also in wood varnish, the insect poison DDT, arsenic, nail polish remover, and rat poison.
The ashes, tar, gases, and other toxins in cigarettes harm your body over time. They damage your heart and lungs. They also make it harder for you to taste and smell things and fight infections.
Is there really such a thing? The surprising answer is yes. Some people really do smoke just a few cigarettes a week. But if you think you're one of them, think again.
Researchers call them "chippers." There's much to learn from this. The term is a slang word for heroin users who try to avoid addiction by infrequent use of small drug doses. It's not a strategy that often works -- for heroin, or for nicotine, says Elizabeth E. Lloyd-Richardson, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry and health behavior at Brown University, Providence, R.I. She's an expert in adolescent and college-age smoking behavior.
"This is absolutely not a good thing to try," Lloyd-Richardson tells WebMD. "We certainly know the health risks associated with smoking. At this point we have not determined a safe amount of smoking. Research also suggests that particularly with adolescents, they often are kind of lulled into this sense they can smoke a little in social situations and then can quit when they go to college or get a job. And we don't actually see that happening that much. Overall, these smokers end up smoking for many, many more years than they intended to."
It's not entirely a bad thing for a person to try to smoke just a little instead of a lot, says Jack E. Henningfield, PhD, professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical School.
"The good side is if a person is honest, and truly is only smoking in social situations -- and those are not daily situations -- that person is at a lower level of dependence," Henningfield tells WebMD. "If properly motivated, such people should be able to quit completely. And they should. A person wouldn't go out to their car four times a week and inhale exhaust fumes. But that is the health equivalent of smoking cigarettes four times a week."