What Are the Health Risks of Being a Social Smoker?

Light, occasional smoking is generally considered to be better than heavy smoking, with the number of cigarettes you regularly consume having a proportional affecting your health. However, social smoking also has its dangers, and it still increases your risk of heart disease, lung cancer, and a range of other conditions when compared to non-smokers.

The bottom line is that social smoking is not safe or healthy, and even a single cigarette is bad for you. Here then, we explore the social smoking risks and why quitting for good is the best thing you can do for your health. Read on to learn more and discover the health risks associated with the habit.

Social Smoker Definition

The definition of a social smoker is fairly clear, although there is no single figure that is defined medically when it comes to the number of cigarettes consumed. However, generally people describe themselves as social smokers when they:

  • Only smoke with other smokers
  • Only smoke in the evening
  • Only smoke while drinking
  • Only smoke on a night out
  • Go long periods without cigarettes

Social smokers tend to smoke intermittently, and usually do not display the same kind of addictive behaviours as regular smokers. However, studies suggest that social smokers are addicted too1, following stable consumption patterns that represent chronic low-level consumption.

This definition differs from light smokers who smoke 10 or fewer cigarettes per day, since social smokers don’t light up on a daily basis. In both cases, despite these lower consumption levels, there are still plenty of health risks associated with consuming tobacco smoke.

The Dangers of Social Smoking

For social smokers, there are many dangers associated with the habit, and studies suggest that the risks of developing lung cancer, for example, for those who smoke fewer than 5 cigarettes per day are not substantially lower than those who smoke more than 20 a day2.

Perhaps more importantly, however, social smoking risks both your health and those around you and can have a severe impact on your mental wellbeing too. Combined, these factors mean that quitting social smoking today is the best thing you can do for your health and the health of your loved ones.

Here, we look a little deeper into the dangers of social smoking.

Social Smoking Health Risks

As with heavy smokers, there is a long list of health risks associated with light and social smoking, and in many cases, there is no lower risk of contracting these diseases or developing these conditions than for heavy smokers3. Health risks include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Cancer, including lung, oesophageal, stomach, and pancreatic cancer
  • Respiratory tract infections
  • Lower fertility
  • Cataracts
  • Depressed immune system
  • Lower quality of life.

The Illusion of Not Being Addicted

Many social smokers claim that they are not addicted to nicotine, however, this is often not the case. In fact, many people often claim to smoke less, and less often, than they do in reality, meaning social smokers are often under the illusion of not being addicted.

This illusion has the potential to push social smokers into the category of heavy smokers very quickly, particularly if you have many social occasions coming up where you would usually smoke. Additionally, it may lead to denial, with social smokers unwilling to admit they are addicted and subsequently not getting the help they need to stop social smoking.

Secondhand Smoke

In exactly the same way as a heavy smoker, secondhand smoke is a risk to your loved ones, including your group of “social smoking” friends! Secondhand smoke can lead to the following in non-smokers:

  • Breathing problems
  • Coughing, wheezing, asthma
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Nasal sinus cancer
  • Lung cancer

The only way to prevent others inhaling your smoke is to quit smoking entirely, as since cigarette smoke can travel long distances, even lighting up outside and in isolated areas has the potential to harm others.

How to Quit Social Smoking

Quitting social smoking is the best thing you can do for your long-term health and the health of those around you, and there are plenty of ways to start you smoke-free future today. Firstly, it’s a good idea to examine you smoking habits more closely,

  1. Keep a record of how many cigarettes you smoke in a day or week.
  2. Record the situations or events in which you usually smoke.
  3. Remember, secret smoking also counts, and being honest about your habits is the best way to quit stop social smoking.

Once you have an idea of how much, how often, when and where you smoke, you can explore how to quit social smoking for good. Contact your local NHS stop smoking service for more advice and support, consider using nicotine replacement therapy when you crave a cigarette, join a stop smoking group or ask your loved ones, and finally, avoid those situations where you are likely to smoke.

The good news is that social smokers often don’t experience the same kind of withdrawal symptoms as heavy smokers, however, if you do notice side effects or symptoms, refer to our stop smoking timeline to understand when they will pass. Additionally, speak to your local pharmacist or GP to discuss how NRT can help you on your stop smoking journey, and call the NHS Smokefree helpline for further support.

Find out more about quitting


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