How to stop social smoking

Dr Lynsey Baird
Lead Physician at Bupa Health Centre Glasgow
06 January 2022
Next review due January 2025

Do you find yourself reaching for a cigarette during an evening out with friends? Whilst smoking occasionally is less dangerous than smoking daily, social smoking still carries a number of serious health risks. The good news, is that it’s easier to quit if you only smoke socially, and not every day. Here I’ll explain why social smoking can harm your health, as well as how you can stop the habit going forwards.

A man drinking a glass of wine

What does social smoking mean?

Social smoking is different from being a ‘regular smoker’. It’s when you only tend to smoke when you’re around other people. Social smoking can mean having an occasional cigarette when you’re with friends. It’s usually linked to having alcohol too. For example, you may smoke at a party, a wedding, or perhaps on holiday with others.

Is social smoking bad for you?

Even though you don’t smoke regularly, there are still real health risks attached to social smoking. For example, you’re more likely to have a reduced quality of life. This means you may have less energy, focus, and poorer mental health. It can affect your health and wellbeing in both the short and long term. Here are some of the ways social smoking can impact your health.

Damage your heart health

There’s no safe level of smoking when it comes to the health of your heart. Studies have shown that smoking just one cigarette a day is linked to an increased risk to your heart health. Even second-hand smoke can be harmful to your heart health. So, avoid smoking and smoky environments if possible.

Increase your risk of cancer

Although the risk of developing lung cancer is lower for social smokers than regular smokers, it’s still a lot higher than not smoking at all. Even people who only smoke every now and again have a higher chance of developing cancers in their stomach and food pipe (oesophagus).

Increase your risk of respiratory (lungs and airways) infections

Social smoking can also increase your chance of getting a lower respiratory infection (such as those that cause a cough). It may also cause these to be more severe and to last longer. With all the viruses going around in winter, including covid-19, it’s good to keep your defences strong against such infections. Stopping smoking may help to reduce your risk.

Can social smoking cause addiction?

Smoking socially can make you more likely to become addicted. Some studies suggest that many social smokers may go on to develop a regular, daily smoking habit. Nicotine (a key substance in cigarettes) is addictive. So, staying clear of smoking altogether is the only way to avoid this.

How to stop social smoking

If you smoke socially, it’s usually because you have certain things that trigger you to smoke. This means there are situations, places or people that make you more likely to smoke. This can be easier to manage than a smoking addiction because your brain and body don’t depend on nicotine yet.

The key thing is to figure out what your personal triggers are and then work out a plan to avoid them. This may involve:

  • avoiding or reducing alcohol. Try switching to alcohol-free alternatives or reducing the amount you drink instead.
  • changing the way you socialise. If you mix with people who smoke, you could try to meet up in places where smoking isn’t allowed instead. It may also be helpful to find other hobbies or activities where you can socialise without smoking – such as a sports club or art class.
  • managing stress and anxiety. If you think that you might smoke socially due to anxiety or stress, try doing more of the things that help you to unwind. Yoga, meditation and exercise can all reduce stress and help you feel more relaxed.

If you’re concerned about your social smoking and would like help to stop, get in touch with your local pharmacy or visit online resources such as NHS stop smoking services for more advice and support.

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Dr Lynsey Baird
Dr Lynsey Baird
Lead Physician at Bupa Health Centre Glasgow

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