What are the effects of social smoking?
Do you smoke occasionally or just on nights out?
Many people may not smoke on a daily basis, but will smoke socially. While you might think this is better than smoking daily, the likelihood is that eventually, social smoking can lead to an addiction, and it can still cause harm to your health.
What is a social smoker?
A social smoker is someone who usually only smokes in social situations such as in pubs, nightclubs, parties, and music events. Many social smokers do not smoke every day and may only smoke on a night out or with friends. These social situations act as social cues or triggers for tobacco use.
Many people who smoke socially do not see themselves as a smoker, or as having an addiction to nicotine. Although they may have only smoked in social situations, usually they will go on to become regular smokers.
Why do some people smoke socially?
There are a few reasons why a person might start smoking socially.
They believe they won't get addicted
Most people believe that they won’t get addicted if they only smoke occasionally, so they see it as an enjoyable way to relax.
Unfortunately, this is a myth because nicotine addiction kicks in quite quickly.
Peer pressure to smoke
Some people start smoking socially because their friends encourage it, or they see it as a fun part of the night out, or because they don't want to feel left out when their friends go to the smoking area.
Smoking while drinking
Drinking alcohol leads many people to let their guard down, so some people smoke only when they have had a drink when normally they wouldn't smoke at all.
What you need to know
Social smoking is not safe, and still causes harm to your health. There are a number of things that are important to keep in mind if you are a social smoker.
There is no safe limit for cigarette smoking
The social smoker is vulnerable to the same harmful health effects as regular smokers.
No matter what the frequency, smoking still exposes you to thousands of harmful chemicals. So there is no safe lower limit of intake like there is for alcohol.
Social pressure from peers often makes people do things they normally wouldn’t do in order to fit in and maintain friendships. Young people who have friends who smoke are much more likely to become smokers themselves so it can be useful to develop strategies to deal with this.
Remember it’s okay to say “no thanks, I’ll pass”. Eventually they will get the message and stop asking you to smoke.
Social smoking can easily lead to regular smoking
Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances on the planet. Nicotine produces physical and mood-altering effects in your brain that are temporarily pleasing. These effects make you want to use tobacco again and again and this quickly leads to dependence. You can start out having a few cigarettes on nights out and end up a regular smoker buying a pack every day. Pure social smoking is actually very rare. People may start off smoking like this but usually become regular smokers over a period of time.
Smoking and drinking at the same time has even higher health risks
Drinking alcohol while using tobacco increases the risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, larynx, oesophagus and liver even more than drinking alcohol or using tobacco by itself.
It's interesting to note that research has found that even small amounts of alcohol boost the pleasurable effects of nicotine, which would increase the desire to smoke when drinking alcohol.
Social smokers also tend to drink more alcohol than non-smokers so if you are trying to stop your social smoking, it might be good to cut down on alcohol for a while.
Quitting is possible
It is possible to quit smoking. If you want to stop smoking, you are much more likely to succeed if you get some help.
Get help and advice to QUIT smoking
- Visit Quit.ie for tips on how to quit smoking and to sign up for an online quit plan.
- Call the Quitline Freephone on 1800 201 203 to talk to someone who understands and can help you quit.
- Check out the Quit Facebook page to read stories from others who have quit smoking and to share your own.
- You can download the Quit Heroes app for your phone for free.
- Check out SpunOut's articles on quitting smoking and much more on spunout.ie/quit
Disclaimer: There is more than one way to quit smoking. You may need to try a few different things to find what is right for you. For advice and support on quitting, visit SpunOut.ie/QUIT