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Waiting 30 Minutes Before Morning Cigarettes May Lower Smokers' Cancer Risk, Study

Update Date: Mar 29, 2013 06:03 PM EDT

Smoking is bad for your health, but a new study reveals that a cigarette in the morning is even worse than a cigarette at night.

A new study from Pennsylvania State University found that the sooner a person smokes a cigarette upon waking in the morning, the greater their chance of developing lung or oral cancer.

Researchers found that smokers who smoke cigarettes immediately after waking have higher levels of a specific tobacco carcinogen in their blood than smokers who don't smoke until a half our or more after waking, regardless of how many cigarettes they smoke per day.

Researcher Steven Branstetter, assistant professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State found that people who smoke first thing in the morning have higher levels of NNAL (4-(methylnitrosamnino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanol), a metabolite of the tobacco-specific carcinogen NNK (4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-[3-pyridyl]-1-butanone) in their systems than smokers who hold off their cigarettes until later in the day. Previous studies have shown that NNK induces lung tumors in several rodent species and that levels of NNAL in the blood can predict lung cancer risk in rodents as well as in humans. What's more, researcher said that studies have shown that NNAL levels are stable in smokers over time, and just a single measurement can accurately reveal a person's exposure.

The study included data on 1,945 smoking adult participants from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey who had provided urine samples for analysis of NNAL. Participants also provided information about their smoking behavior, like how soon they typically smoked after waking up.

Researchers found that around 32 percent of the participants in the study smoked their first cigarette of the day within five minutes of waking, 31 percent smoked within six to 30 minutes of waking, 18 percent smoked within 31 to 60 minutes of waking and 19 percent smoked more than one hour after waking. Researcher found that the NNAL level in participants' blood correlated with the participants' age, the age they started smoking, their gender and whether or not another smoker lived in their home.

But most importantly, researchers found that NNAL level was highest among participants who smoked the soonest upon waking, regardless of the frequency of smoking and other factors that predict NNAL concentrations.

"We believe these people who smoke sooner after waking inhale more deeply and more thoroughly, which could explain the higher levels of NNAL in their blood, as well as their higher risk of developing oral or lung cancer," Branstetter said in a statement.

Based on the latest findings, Branstetter said that time to first cigarette might be an important factor in identifying smokers at an elevated risk of developing cancers, and that healthcare professionals should develop interventions specifically targeted toward early-morning smokers.

The findings are published in the March 29 issue of the journal Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention

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