Social smoking

We all know about the hard-core smokers who NEED a fag to survive, they’ve been around since the dawn of time. But more recently another brand of smoking has been gaining popularity - the social smoker. These are the people who only smoke with others, and view it more as a passtime than a daily habit. We’ll talk you through what it means to be a social smoker and the differences that lead to a fag with friends and going through 20 packets a day.

A group of young people are standing on a pavement. They are thinking about being a social smoker. This is a full-body image.

What does social smoker mean? 

There’s no scientific definition, but generally speaking a social smoker is someone who smoke occasionally and only when they’re with other people. The amount they actually smoke varies on what they’ve been up to. They may smoke loads on a big night out, then nothing for weeks after. Or they may occasionally ‘pop out’ for the odd one with their smoker friends.

Social smokers don’t consider themselves smokers, rarely buy cigarettes for themselves, and don’t think they have a nicotine addiction. Personally, we’d argue that if you social smoke, you’re either a light smoker or an occasional smoker – regardless, you’re definitely still a smoker.

Is social smoking bad for you? 

‘Surely the odd fag isn’t that bad?’ you think. Sorry to burst your bubble but ALL smoking is bad for your health. In fact, there’s not a single redeeming health feature of smoking. Unless it’s the fact that smoking can help you poo when you’re a bit blocked up in the morning. Being a social smoker increases the risk of high blood pressure, high heart rate and heart disease. What’s more, studies show that social smoker lungs are just as bad as heavy smoker lungs. You’re basically prone to all the same health risks as a chain smoker. So if you think you’re being good by only having the occasional smoke, think again. 

“You are either a smoker or you are not,” says Jennifer Ruddick, from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH). “There is no safe level of smoking and smoking one or two cigarettes a day or even less frequently will harm your health. Similarly, lung cancer is a risk of smoking no matter how few cigarettes you smoke.”

Why do people partake in socially smoking? 

Because, much as the government has tried to stigmatise smoking, it’s a sociable thing to do, especially if most of your friends are smokers. Other reasons include:

  • You may not think the occasional cigarette is bad for you,
  • Having something to hold with your hand can make social situations feel easier,
  • It can help you de-stress if you’re under pressure,
  • Yes, admittedly, it still looks quite cool.
  • You might even feel pressured to do it if you live with smokers. To get some advice on how to deal with that situation, click here. 

When does social smoking become actual smoking? 

Lots of apparently-social smokers don’t realise just how many fags they get through each week. Try keeping tabs on it and you may be surprised how much it all adds up. Other signs you’re actually, deep down, a heavy smoker include:

  • You start buying your own cigarettes here and there because you feel guilty for bumming so many,
  • You start smoking alone,
  • The thought of not being able to smoke when you next go out worries you,
  • You’ve started thinking about and wanting cigarettes when you’re not smoking. In fact, even reading this article has made you quite want one,
  • You don’t get headaches or feel sick when you smoke, even though you did when you first started.

How do I quit social smoking? 

You would think quitting social smoking would be easier, wouldn’t ya? As you’re not addicted to nicotine and all that. However, social smoking is a habit – and habits are tough to break. Tough, but possible.

  • Ask yourself ‘why am I doing this?’ every time you crave a cigarette. It can help find the underlying reason you’re socially smoking. Repeatedly asking yourself this can scare you into realising you’ve got more of a problem than you thought.
  • Try and cut down on your drinking when out. We know, why take away ALL THE FUN THINGS? But if you associate smoking with being pissed, removing the ‘being pissed’ element can help your willpower in that first tricky month.
  • Hold your drink in your smoking hand the first couple of times you go out. It will help make the hand feel less ’empty’
  • Buddy up to your non-smoking friends. You know, the ones who smell much nicer, and don’t stand shivering in minus ten degrees outside the pub. Often we associate habits with certain people, and, no doubt, there’s some certain people you always end up smoking with. Love ’em as you might, perhaps stop joining them for their jaunts outside until you’ve built up a bit more inner strength.
  • Read about the 4000 toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke – and then remember you’re willingly putting this stuff in your lungs.

To find out more about stopping smoking, and maybe even get some very general medical advice, visit the NHS website.

Next Steps

  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 09-Sep-2021