More than 9,700 women aged 18 to 25, were surveyed about their smoking habits in 2011. Nearly 20 percent of all women in the study, and more than 60 percent of the current smokers, were very light smokers, according to the findings.
Overall, about 30% of the women were current smokers, whereas 28% were former smokers and 41% had never smoked. Most of the current smokers were "very light smokers," who smoked five or fewer cigarettes per day.
In addition, more than 70 percent of the very light smokers said they didn't smoke every day. The very light smokers were more likely than heavier smokers to have some college education, and were more likely to perceive smoking as carrying higher health risks.
"Health educators and health care providers working with women in emerging adulthood need to recognize the high prevalence of very light smoking in this population, and screen for any level of tobacco use," the researchers, wrote.
In addition, some of the public health efforts aimed at getting people to quit smoking should be tailored to target very light smokers, the researchers said. People in this group may be less likely to identify themselves as smokers, but also more likely to recognize the high risks in smoking, the researchers said.
"Making very light smokers aware that even small amounts of tobacco are harmful would be important," said study researcher Carole Holahan, of the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education at the University of Texas at Austin.