They don’t consider themselves as smokers. They only smoke at social occasions – parties, bars, etc. They think they can quit anytime. They also tend to smoke only with the company of others rather than alone. They are the social smokers.
And it seems that the numbers of social smokers are increasing.
Many people believe an occasional cigarette – not necessarily everyday – can do no harm. In these days when non-smoking legislation is the rule rather than the exception, many people have tried to cut down on smoking and only smoke when it is socially appropriate – even necessary.
However, it is known that nicotine dependence affects individuals differently. There are those who are easily “hooked” but there are those who treat smoking as an occasional indulgence – “like eating too much ice cream” says one social smoker. Some social smokers claim they can go without cigarette for weeks, then indulge on a pack on a weekend with friends. And that it is a thing that they can put down anytime.
But how common is social smoking?
Social smoking is considered to be “a pattern of social behavior that is poorly understood.” And while smoking in general is on the decline, social smoking seems to be on the rise. A government survey showed that social smokers increased by 40% between 1998 and 2001, especially in young people.
Social smoking seems to be common among college students. Researchers at Harvard did a survey of over 10,000 college students in 119 American colleges in 2001 and reported that more 2,000 of those surveyed were smokers and 51% of these consider themselves as social smokers. What is interesting about the results are that social smoking was independently associated with
- Low smoking frequency
- Low intensity of tobacco use
- Less nicotine dependence
- Less attempts to quit
- Less intention to quit
The results suggest that social smoking among college students “represent a stage in the uptake of smoking”.
So why is social smoking becoming popular?
Some the reasons may be:
- Increased awareness of health risks of smoking to the smoker. But can an occasional cigarette damage our health? Well, health experts believe there is no safe level for smoking.
- Increased awareness of health risks to others (second-hand and third-hand smoking). Some parents, for example, would smoke only socially outside of the home to protect their children.
- Increased anti-smoking legislations
Can social smokers quit?
Some claim that social smokers are just low level addicts “not hooked on nicotine, just smoking.”
University of California researcher Rebecca Schane believes social smokers can quit. She noticed that anti-cessation therapies are only available to daily smokers. However, social smokers are motivated to quit when they realized that they are a nuisance to others. In other words, they respond to the social pressure. Says Schane