How Safe is Social Smoking?

You don't consider yourself a smoker. A week can go by without a craving for a single puff of tobacco. However, once the weekend rolls in and you're among friends who smoke, you don't refrain from partaking. In fact, you may even enjoy the sensation. After all, smoking socially can't really hurt you. Can it?

The Risks are Real

The truth is that even the occasional smoker can suffer permanent damage. In response to the Surgeon General's call for political leaders to implement policies that reduce tobacco use, Norman H. Edelman, M.D., American Lung Association's Chief Medical Officer, said "[e]ven an occasional cigarette is harmful to you and those around you, and can cause permanent lung damage and cancer.  The sooner you quit, the more your body can begin to heal from the damage and disease caused by smoking."

In a study conducted by the University of Georgia and published in the journal Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology, researchers found that the arteries of occasional smokers were 35.9 percent less responsive to changes in blood flow than nonsmokers. What's more, after the initial test, those same participants underwent the test a second time after smoking two more cigarettes. The second exam showed that their arterial responsiveness dropped by another 23.8 percent,

If permanent heart damage wasn't enough, several studies suggest that the social smoker is less likely to give up their occasional cigarette and is even less likely to admit that their periodical indulgence has become a habit. This is especially true for young smokers.

What Can You Do to Quit?

Because the occasional smoker may not be addicted to the nicotine so much as he is addicted to the act of smoking, treatments such as the patch and nicotine gums aren't necessary. For success at social smoking cessation, follow these tips:

1. Assess yourself honestly. Reflect upon your smoking patterns. Are you smoking more than you had when you first started? If so, your weekly indulgence may have turned into a habit.

2. Involve your friends.  If you chronically "bum" cigarettes from your friends who smoke, ask them not to provide you with cigarettes no matter how fervently you ask.

3. Avoid smoking situations. If you're out with friends and feel a craving coming on, resist the urge to accompany your friends for a smoke. Similarly, avoid smoking sections of restaurants, and by all means, steer clear of casual conversations outside the bar entrance.




The American Lung Association
American Lung Association Responds to 30th Surgeon General's Report

The National Institutes of Health
Occasional cigarette smoking chronically affects arterial function.
Stoner L, Sabatier MJ, Black CD, McCully KK.

Social Smoking Among US College Students
Susan Moran, MD, MSCE*, Henry Wechsler, PhD, Nancy A. Rigotti, MD

PEDIATRICS Vol. 114 No. 4 October 2004, pp. 1028-1034 (doi:10.1542/peds.2003-0558-L)