By June Fletcher
Lighting up a cigarette first thing in the morning may increase the risk of lung, head and neck cancers, according to new research.
Researchers at Penn State College of Medicine found that smokers who lit up within a half-hour of waking were at a 59% greater risk for head and neck cancer and a 79% greater risk for lung cancer, according to the journal Cancer. Those who lit up within the second half hour after awakening were at a 42% and 31% higher risk, respectively.
The researchers suggested that smoking so early in the day may indicate a stronger dependence on nicotine.
The research was supported by grants from the National Cancer Institute and the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
On its website, the American Lung Association says that the current generation of older smokers has smoking rates that are among the highest in any generation. In 2008, about a fifth of all American smokers were over the age of 45 and one in 10 was above age 65.
About one in five Americans die from smoking-related illness, and about half of all cigarette smokers eventually will die of the addiction, the association said. Smoking increases the risk for heart disease, stroke and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, as well as cancer, and decreases life expectancy by an average of 13 to 15 years.
However, quitting can improve health and add years, even after a lifetime of smoking. When smokers quit at age 65, men live 1.4 to 2 years longer, while women gain 2.7 to 3.4 years.