Consider yourself just a social smoker? You may need to rethink that. | Center on Addiction

Consider yourself just a social smoker? You may need to rethink that.

Consider yourself just a social smoker? You may need to rethink that.


If you said yes, there’s about a 50-50 chance you’re wrong. If you call yourself a social smoker, you might believe that you aren’t really harming your health — after all, social smokers are defined as people who mostly smoke in social situations. Maybe they don’t reach for a cigarette first thing in the morning, or need to take a cigarette break during the workday. They don’t smoke that much so they aren’t harming their health, right? Wrong. In New York City alone, non-daily and light daily smokers now make up 76 percent of the smoking population.

Two recent studies on social smoking found that about 50 percent of the people who identify as social smokers actually smoke alone as much as they smoke with other people.

Not only that, the study found that the two groups — typical social smokers, people who mostly smoke with others; and the atypical social smokers, people who smoke as much alone as with others — are different in some important ways.

Typical social smokers:

  • smoke on average 4.5 days per week
  • smoke an average of 4-6 cigarettes per day on the days that they smoke

As for the atypical group — the social smokers who also smoke alone — they:

  • smoke on average 6 days per week
  • smoke an average of 10 cigarettes per day on the days that they smoke

This means that the atypical social smokers actually smoke more often, and nearly twice as many cigarettes, as the typical social smokers.

The atypical group may not just be mistaken about being social smokers — they may also not realize how much more they smoke than the friends they smoke with, or how much they’re actually harming their health.

Why is it important to know how much you really smoke?

Research has shown that if you smoke more, you’re more likely to become addicted. In fact, the above study found that the atypical social smokers were more than twice as likely to show signs of nicotine addiction as the typical social smokers.

There is also a relationship between how much you smoke and how much harm it does to your health. In other words: more smoking = more harm. So the atypical social smokers in this study, who smoked more often and more cigarettes than the typical social smokers, are facing even more negative health consequences.

And while more smoking means more harm, that does not mean that less smoking does no harm. Even for typical social smokers, the health risks are still substantial. 

No matter who you do it with, smoking hurts your health

Even among people who don’t smoke every day, or who only smoke a few cigarettes per day, when compared to nonsmokers, studies have shown that:

  • their risk for cardiovascular disease is 2-3 times higher
  • their risk for lung cancer is 3-5 times higher
  • they report lower quality of life

And, if you’re a social smoker, it isn’t just your own health that is at risk. Secondhand smoke can cause cardiovascular disease and lung cancer in nonsmokers, and even short periods of exposure are damaging. There is no level of smoking that is safe. 

The bottom line: Any amount of smoking, including social smoking, is damaging to your health and to the health of those around you. In fact, this year Legacy's Truth campaign launched educational videos to target social smokers. Be sure to check it out in the video below:




Alexis Nager, MS

Alexis Nager is a Research Associate at CASAColumbia



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