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Smoking upon awakening raises cancer risk: 14 easy ways to cure tobacco cravings

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Penn State research finds smoking upon awakening boosts cancer risk

People who smoke cigarettes as soon as they wake up in the morning are more likely to develop oral and lung cancer than those who wait at least 30 minutes. Researchers say the risk of cancer is higher regardless of how many cigarettes a person smokes the rest of the day.

Why smoking upon awakening could predict cancer

Steven Branstetter, assistant professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State where the study was conducted explains smoking upon awakening is associated with higher levels of a particular carcinogen known as NNAL that is a metabolite of the tobacco-specific cancer causing chemical NNK.

Past studies in animals have shown the NNK metabolite in rodents promotes lung tumors. Level of NNAL in the bloodstream can predict lung cancer in humans and rodents Branstetter says.

In the study, 1,945 smoking adults from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey provided urine samples to measure NNAL along with information about their smoking habits including whether they smoked upon awakening.

Thirty-two percent had their first cigarette within 5 minutes of getting up; 31 percent within 6 to 30 minutes; 18 percent smoked within 31 to 60 minutes and 19 percent waited at least an hour to smoke a cigarette.

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In addition to early morning smoking, other factors that influenced NNAL levels included number of years of smoking, age, gender and presence of another smoker in the home.

Branstetter and his colleague Joshua Muscat, professor of public health sciences discovered people who smoking as soon as they awaken in the morning had the highest levels of NNAL, regardless of how many cigarettes they smoke the rest of the day. He suggests the reason may be deeper inhalation of tobacco smoke.

The finding could mean asking a person about smoking in the morning could help identify people at higher risk for oral and lung cancer. Because NNAL remains stable, Branstetter says a single measurement of the carcinogen is reflective of a person’s exposure.

Identifying when a person has their first cigarette in the morning could lead to early interventions to help thwart tobacco related cancer the authors suggest.

Tips for curbing or stopping smoking

  1. Speak with your doctor about medications that can help control cigarette cravings
  2. Change your daily routine to help postpone your first cigarette of the day
  3. Walk in the morning and throughout the day. Exercise is known to temporarily decrease tobacco cravings.
  4. If you are trying to quit smoking, drink plenty of fluids to help with symptoms of withdrawal.
  5. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Studies show people who munch on healthy foods are more successful at stopping smoking.
  6. Consider stop smoking aids like patches and gum to reduce cravings. Speak with your doctor first.
  7. Tell you family and friends you are trying to quit tobacco.
  8. Find a method that works best for you. Studies show even cutting back on cigarettes can improve lung health.
  9. Give yourself a timeline and understand it will take willpower to stick to it.
  10. Write down the reasons you have made the decision to stop smoking and put it in a prominent place.
  11. Practice deep breathing exercises that will not only improve lung health, but can relax you to get through the day.
  12. Buy yourself a treat with the money or join a gym with the money would spend on cigarettes. Put your money in a jar and watch it grow!
  13. Consider acupuncture, acupressure or hypnosis. The investment is well worth it for the return of optimal health and no more expensive cigarettes.
  14. Spend more time with non-smokers.

Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention
"Time to First Cigarette and 4-(Methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-Pyridyl)-1-Butanol (NNAL) Levels in Adult Smokers; National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey" (NHANES), 2007–2010
March 29, 2013
doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-12-0842

Image credit: Morguefile