Light smoking, consuming a few cigarettes daily, and intermittent, or nondaily, smoking patterns are increasingly common but carry health risks comparable to heavier smoking patterns. Nearly all smokers begin smoking as adolescents, who are at risk for developing these smoking patterns. Previous research suggests that smokers underestimate the risks associated with smoking. The extent to which adolescents perceive light and intermittent smoking as harmful has not been previously assessed.


Data from 24 658 US adolescents sampled by the 2012 National Youth Tobacco Survey, a national, school-based, cross-sectional survey, were examined. Cross-tabulations and multivariate ordered probit regression models were constructed to describe correlates of US adolescents’ perception of light and intermittent smoking.


Although most adolescents (88.0%; 95% confidence interval [CI], 87.2% to 88.8%) reported beliefs that a heavier smoking pattern is very harmful, only 64.3% (95% CI; 63.2% to 65.3%) and 33.3% (95% CI; 32.0% to 34.6%) reported that light and intermittent smoking, respectively, are very harmful. Conversely, nearly one-quarter of US adolescents believed intermittent smoking causes little or no harm. Males, younger adolescents, Hispanics, and non-Hispanic blacks were more likely than their peers to view light and intermittent smoking patterns as less harmful. Those who were already light or intermittent smokers, those who used other tobacco products, and those who had a family member who used tobacco were also less likely to view their smoking patterns as harmful.


Misconceptions about the safety of light and intermittent smoking are widespread among US adolescents. Significant public health attention is needed to redress these misperceptions.

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