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That Girls Night Out Cigarette Isn't a Harmless Habit

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Gwyneth Paltrow is known for her superhuman commitment to her healthy lifestyle. Her three-hours-a-day workouts and her cookbook full of dairy-, grain- , meat- , and sugar- free recipes are legendary. But the mom-of-two recently admitted to Harper's Bazaar that she does have one vice: one cigarette a week with friends. "My guilty pleasure is my one light American Spirit cigarette I smoke once a week, on a Saturday night," she said.

Paltrow is one of millions of Americans who consider themselves "social smokers," and while it may not seem like much to light up every now and again with friends, when it comes to your health even occasional smoking is a big deal, says the American Cancer Society (ACS), who is hosting their annual Great American Smokeout today. 

The event is meant to encourage people to quit smoking, even if it's just for that one day and even if you only have the occasional smoke. While Paltrow with her flowing hair, lean body, and smooth skin seems the epitome of good health, the ACS says the bad effects of just one cig start immediately, even if you can't see them. One puff and your heart rate and blood pressure skyrocket, as does the amount of carbon dioxide in your body. 

But the real problem, according to a new study, is that intermittent or social smokers don't think of themselves as "smokers" and therefore assume that they have a get-out-of-cancer-free card. "This propensity not to label oneself as a smoker reinforces the belief that light and intermittent smoking do not carry significant health risks," the authors write. Yet their study found that social smoking poses substantial risks where "the adverse health outcomes parallel dangers observed among daily smoking, particularly for cardiovascular disease."

Plus while you may think that the effects wear off after you put out the cigarette, the ACS says this is also untrue. Your lung function can remain compromised from two weeks to three months—something to think about the next time you're struggling to make it through your spin class. And cilia, the tiny hair-like structures that move mucus out of your lungs, need almost a year to fully recover. 

And don't think you're totally safe just because you're not the one lighting up. Breathing in someone else's fumes can be just as harmful as regular smoke. In fact, Second-Hand Smoke Might Be Making You Gain Weight: A recent study even found that people exposed to second-hand smoke are even more at risk for obesity and weight gain than are the smokers themselves. Your friend smokes but you gain weight? Talk about a bad deal.

There's no such thing as a good cigarette, the ACS cautions, not even smoking "just one to relax." (Find a better technique in Relaxing 101: Expert Tips to Reduce Stress and Relieve Anxiety.) So this year, take the opportunity to quit smoking for real and to encourage your friends and loved ones to do the same. After all, you want many more happy, healthy years together!

For more information on The Great American Smokeout or for resources on how to quit smoking, visit the American Cancer Society

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