Earlier this month, the New York Times reported on an illegal practice that is becoming more common within the city – the sale of single cigarettes, more commonly known as "loosies." These single cigarettes are sold for 75 cents each or two for $1 on the street by "cigarette vendors." You won’t find these vendors in bodegas or booths – they stand right on the corner or lean up against buildings calling out under their breath to people passing by. If you’re a regular customer, however, they may even deliver to the lobby of your office building.
Those who choose to purchase cigarettes this way often believe that “this is the last one.” They convince themselves that, though they’re still smoking a few cigarettes per day, it’s healthier than purchasing a full pack. But, can smokers trying to kick the habit actually wean themselves off cigarettes by only purchasing one at a time, or are they just fooling themselves? And, how much damage can "a few" cigarettes a day cause?
According to Dr. Igor Brichkov, a thoracic surgeon at Maimonides Medical Center, "While fewer is certainly better than more, smokers are still exposing themselves to carcinogens every time they smoke their one or two cigarettes each day.” You don’t have to be a heavy or long-time smoker to develop the negative side effects that come with the habit. “Unless a person completely quits smoking,” contends Dr. Brichkov, “their lifetime risk of developing cancer will not be reduced over time, even if they cut the amount of cigarettes they smoke.” Dr. Brichkov warns of the known health complications from smoking tobacco, such as lung damage, exacerbation of diabetes-related issues, and increased risk of stroke, heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems.
Dr. Andrew Kolodny, Chair of Psychiatry, is also skeptical of the practice of buying loosies. "One could argue that allowing people to buy one cigarette is helpful because they don’t have access to the whole pack, thereby reducing the risk of giving in to temptation and smoking a larger quantity,” he reasons. However, there can be a downside. “Most people who have an addiction to any drug often fool themselves into believing that this is the last time they’ll satisfy their craving.” This easy access allows a person to buy single cigarettes and continue their dependence, when they may have chosen not to smoke at all if the only option was to buy the whole pack.
Instead of buying loosies, Dr. Kolodny recommends the patch as the most effective way to quit smoking. “Most people who are serious about quitting have found success using nicotine replacement therapy. The patch slowly supplies a steady amount of nicotine into the bloodstream, ending the cycle of reaching for a cigarette to satisfy their craving.” The nicotine dosage in the patch is gradually reduced over time, eventually eliminating cravings and the need to smoke. Which – let's face it – is the only healthy choice when it comes to cigarettes.