Risks for 'social' smokers

Photo of a bunch of carrots

As tobacco use rates drop nationwide, more of the people who smoke fall into the category of "light" or "social" smokers.

No safe level of smoking

Photo of a no smoking sign in front of an ashtrayIt's the weekend and you're out on the town. You order a drink and bum a smoke from a friend. 

You almost never buy cigarettes for yourself and you don’t even smoke every day. What’s the harm? 

The truth is, a single cigarette stiffens the arteries and constricts the blood, and can even trigger a heart attack. 

And because many "now-and-then" smokers think they are avoiding the health risks associated with heavy smoking, they are less likely to want to quit altogether.

An ambitious, 32-year study of men and womenKaiser Permanente is not responsible for the content or policies of external Internet sites. in Norway who smoked between 1 and 4 cigarettes per day found:

  • increased risk of heart disease, as opposed to nonsmokers
  • increased risk of all other diseases
  • in women, a significant increase in the risk of lung cancer

Many health experts now agree that any amount of smoking — even 1 or 2 cigarettes a week — is a health hazard.

A nonsmoking smoker?

Even if you rarely smoke, you still put yourself and others in jeopardy. Here are some common misconceptions about smoking the occasional cigarette.

I never buy. When I get the urge, I just ask someone for a smoke.
This likely means you’re hanging out with smokers, in smoky places, breathing in secondhand smoke when not actually lighting up yourself. You still put yourself at risk.

I only smoke when I unwind with a drink, or after a large meal.
Drinking reduces will power and impairs judgment, making it easy to jump from a 2 to a 20 cigarette a day habit before you even realize it. And smoking after a satisfying meal makes it more likely you'll smoke after every meal.

I buy "high-quality" cigarettes with low tar and fewer additives.
The U.S. Surgeon General has concluded that changes to cigarette design and ingredients over the past 50 years have not reduced overall disease risk among smokers. Some studies suggest that modern cigarettes are actually more addictive than ever.

Isn’t a cigarette every so often better than 2 packs a day?
While this is true, in addition to the health risks of smoking the occasional cigarette, there’s a risk of awakening the addiction you thought was under control. Even if you’ve curbed your cravings, you are never going to completely lose the addiction — it will always be there, napping in the background.

How to stop

Think of a screen saver on your computer. Everything is quiet and calm until you press just one key, and then the activity starts again. Smoking works in a similar way: one cigarette, and suddenly the addiction that had been napping is wide awake again.

Learn how you can kick the habit for good.