Many people do it. It's become quite a trend. But what many of us may not know is just how hazardous social smoking can be. It can also be a gateway to full-time smoking. Dr Cassy Richmond clears the air on why social smoking is so dangerous.
What is social smoking?
Social smoking is a term used to describe those who smoke occasionally, such as at gatherings on the weekends, when others around them are smoking as well. A social smoker will often light up when enjoying a drink at a party with friends and they don't crave cigarettes throughout the week, he or she may not even classify themselves as being a smoker at all.
The risks of social smoking
Most experts would agree that no level of tobacco smoke exposure can be considered safe. Whether someone smokes a pack a day, or a couple of cigarettes a month, every puff of every cigarette has the potential to do damage.
In fact, research has shown that the risks of lung cancer, heart attack and stroke increase with every cigarette smoked.
In addition, according to Professor Robyn Richmond at School of Public Health and Community Medicine at the University of New South Wales, the chance of developing chronic lung disease, such as emphysema, is also elevated each time the lungs are assaulted by inhaled tobacco smoke.
It's not surprising really, when you consider that cigarette smoke contains over 4000 chemical compounds, including tar, nicotine, arsenic and carbon monoxide.
An additional concern for those who smoke socially is that some of them may be binge smoking on the weekends (that is, consuming a large number of cigarettes over the course of a few hours).
According to research by the NSW Cancer Institute, more than six out of 10 smokers aged between 18 and 24 years admit to binge smoking. This means that the amount of nicotine getting into their bloodstream at a given time is very high, causing a greater negative impact on the lungs and heart.
Furthermore, as the culture of social smoking usually involves smoking-while-drinking, social smokers are at risk of further dangers. Studies have shown that, when smoking is coupled with alcohol, the risk of developing cancers of the oesophagus and throat is substantially increased. This risk rises as quantities of smoking and alcohol consumed increases.
The reality about social smoking
While many social smokers believe they are not a "true smoker" because they only smoke sporadically, experts believe that social smokers are, in fact, at risk of becoming habitual ones. And in some cases, this can happen quickly. This is because nicotine is highly addictive, and smoking one cigarette will often lead to smoking another.
Breaking the cycle
The good news for social smokers is that they are able to abstain happily throughout most of their week. These smokers are not addicted to nicotine yet they probably smoke socially because they enjoy the sensation of the nicotine "high", rather than to stave off the effects of nicotine withdrawal.
If you are a social smoker and want to quit altogether, here are some helpful steps:
- Tell all your friends. Hopefully they will help you in your "anti-smoking" plight by encouraging you to not light up next time you are out and about.
- Avoid situations where you might have a cigarette at least in the short-term, anyway. You will probably now be thankful for those laws that ban cigarettes in bars and other public places!
- Cut down on your alcohol intake. As you might imagine, your resolve to stop smoking might be weakened with a couple of drinks on board. If you alternate alcoholic beverages with non-alcoholic ones, you are more likely to stay strong.
- Seek support. For advice and support, call Quitline on 137 848.
Have your say: are you a social smoker?