Social smokers are in the same danger as regular smokers for cardiovascular problems, a new study has revealed.

The Ohio State Universtiy study, published in the American Journal of Health Promotion, compared the cardiovascular risk of 'social smokers' with those who smoke regularly.

'Not smoking at all is the best way to go. Even smoking in a social situation is detrimental to your cardiovascular health,' lead author and assistant professor of clinical nursing at Ohio State University, Kate Gawlik said.

'One in 10 people in this study said they sometimes smoke, and many of them are young and already on the path to heart disease,' she said.

It is the first population health study to compare the blood pressure and cholesterol levels of people who self-identify as current verses social smokers, who smoke cigarettes irregularly while socialising.

Although previous smoking behavior was not controlled for in the analysis, the study shows that there is no significant difference in the prevalence of elevated blood pressure or cholesterol among the two smoking groups.

Heart risk

Of the 39,555 person sample studied, 10% identified as social smokers. They were found to be at a significantly higher risk of having hypertension and elevated cholesterol than non-smokers.

Furthermore, there was no significant difference between social smokers and current smokers (17% of sample) in relation to their risk of hypertension or high cholesterol.

Among current and social smokers (after researchers adjusted for differences in factors including demographics and obesity), about 75% had high blood pressure and 54% had high cholesterol.

'Significance for population health'

'These are striking findings and they have such significance for clinical practice and for population health,' said study senior author and dean of the university's College of Nursing, Bernadette Melnyk.

Health professionals should strive to identify social smokers and offer them advice and tools to quit smoking, Melnyk said.

'The typical question is "Do you smoke or use tobacco?" And social smokers will usually say "No",' she said.

The researchers instead advise asking patients: 'Do you ever smoke cigarettes or use tobacco in social situations such as at bars, parties, work events or family gatherings?'

Any social smokers should then be made aware of the danger of cardiovascular risk and helped to quit before they possibly become regular smokers.