Do Smokers and Nonsmokers Assess Tobacco’s Risks Differently?

A closeup of a man breathing out cigarette smokeThe Journal of Cognitive Psychology published a study on how smokers assess the health risks of cigarettes. According to the study, smokers may exhibit denial to cope with fears about the long-term consequences of smoking.

Other studies support the idea that smokers underestimate how much the risks of nicotine addiction might apply to them. In a 2015 study, 34% of participants (smokers and nonsmokers) thought having 10 or fewer cigarettes per day would not significantly increase the risk of lung cancer. Only about half of smoking participants thought they were at a higher risk of developing lung cancer than the general population.

Risks of Smoking Might be Closer Than Smokers Think

Researchers surveyed 172 Italian adults ages 18-35 years. Sixty participants were smokers. Researchers asked the group how long it would take for an 18-year-old who smoked 10 cigarettes daily to develop smoking-related health issues.

People who didn’t smoke thought mild conditions, such as gum disease and a sore throat, would appear within 1-5 years. Smokers believed these issues would take 5-10 years to appear.

Smokers also overestimated how long it would take for more serious ailments to develop. They thought emphysema, heart disease, and lung cancer would take 30 or more years to appear. Nonsmokers thought 20-25 years was a more realistic time frame.

The study authors argue the point isn’t which group is right. The development period of any health issue varies depending on someone’s environment and genetics. Instead, what matters is that smokers think the consequences of smoking will be delayed. This shift in thinking may let them justify the habit and cause them to delay quitting.

Smoking and Mental Health

Smoking is a chemical addiction and a habit. Addiction makes quitting difficult, even when smokers are keenly aware of the risks. Therapy, lifestyle changes, and support can help. But according to a 2017 study, mental health providers may not know if someone wishes to quit smoking. Research published in 2018 shows medication alone is not enough to help smokers quit. These studies highlight the need for mental health support for smokers who want to kick the habit.


  1. Pancani, L., & Rusconi, P. (2017, December 13). The onset time delaying effect: Smokers vs non-smokers place the adverse consequences of smoking further in the future. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 1-13. doi:10.1080/20445911.2017.1415346
  2. Smokers think health effects are farther off than they may be, survey says. (2018, January 24). United Press International. Retrieved from
  3. Smokers underestimate risks of a few cigarettes. (2015, April 17). ScienceDaily. Retrieved from

© Copyright 2018 All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 1 comment
  • Leave a Comment
  • Woden

    February 22nd, 2018 at 4:27 PM

    Um…duh? Nobody wants to think they’re gonna die soon. Denial tastes better than withdrawal.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.