Hard to define but easy to spot, the social smoker is on the rise. The increased awareness of health risks, the stigma of smoking and the smoking ban has meant that heavy smokers are disappearing. However those lighting up with a drink in their hand are cropping up all over the place, and a University College London study found that 80% of occasional smokers were unable to give up when they tried.
Here are the reasons why social smokers are in a difficult and dangerous situation that needs to be addressed.
It’s difficult to define
Social smokers are defined as those who don’t smoke every day or smoke an average of less than one cigarette per day. As the name suggests they only smoke in social situations, usually with alcohol and surrounded by other smokers.
However the story doesn’t end there. Studies have shown that the distinction between self-labelled and behavioural social smokers is important. While the behavioural social smoker only lights up occasionally, those who call themselves a social smoker are probably using it as an excuse not to address their smoking habits. An American study revealed that self-confessed social smokers are less likely to attempt to give up, or even have any intention of doing so, than their behavioural counterparts.
While both types are at risk of developing into daily smokers, and the associated health risks, the difference between someone who smokes occasionally and a smoker who thinks they do is found in denial.
They have their heads in the sand
Like a witch-doctors chant, people seem to believe that the words ‘I’m a social smoker,’ or ‘I only smoke when I drink,’ have mystical properties. Convinced they don’t have a problem, they tend to ignore advice and health warnings, seeing them as only applying to ‘real’ smokers.
Unwilling to face their habit, they don’t want to admit to themselves how much and how often they smoke. As social smoking often goes hand in hand with alcohol, many people would find it difficult to keep track if they wanted to. Binge smokers, like binge drinkers, are mainly seen in social situations but it’s easy to see that both have a problem.
They are certain the fight has been won
Many social smokers, who previously had a heavier habit, feel like they’ve already quit. No longer smoking every day many people think the battle has been won. However nicotine addiction isn’t just keeping levels topped up but is also incredibly situational. Unable to partake in a social drink without a cigarette, or see a friend light up without joining them, is a sure sign of addiction.
They ignore the health implications
Social smokers would love to believe that occasional smoking has significantly fewer health implications. Not so. While cancer is related to the amount you smoke, the risk of heart disease is not. Like memory loss and exposure to all the other harmful chemicals, smokers are at-risk after the first one or two cigarettes.
The pairing of smoking and drinking can also increase the harm. While it’s commonly known that alcohol reduces inhibitions and reasoning, leading to unconscious chain-smoking, the knowledge that it increases the absorption of carcinogens is less well-known.
There is a definite need for help directed specifically at social smokers. However, once they’ve recognised that their problem needs to be addressed there is a lot of support available to help them stop smoking.
The first step in getting help is to admit there is a problem. In a fog of alcohol and smoke, social smokers are often shocked at how difficult they find it to quit completely. However membership to this threatened group is increasing, while they ignore the risk of daily addiction that is hanging over their heads.