The long term effects of social smoking
With lockdown restrictions starting to ease, we’re all bound to indulge in (quite a few) nights out and get back in the game when it comes to socialising. But with summer nights ‘round the corner, many of us are likely to fall into the trap of lighting the odd cigarette when we’re a few drinks in. Whilst it’s easy to let temptation get in the way of healthy habits (especially after too many months of lockdown), social smoking isn’t completely guilt-free. The long term effects still wreak havoc on your health and all over state of wellbeing. Here’s what you need to know about social smoking, in the hope that you will be able to turn down the next cigarette you’re offered outside a bar.
1. Social smoking can still result in a nicotine addiction
Whilst it’s easy to think that the odd social puff won’t get you addicted, experts advise that ‘light smokers’ are still at the risk of craving nicotine when they least expect it. A popular theory is that social smokers are ‘low level addicts, either in denial or on the brink of addiction’, highlighting the highly addictive properties of nicotine and the ease of people getting hooked on the habit.
Nicotine works by stimulating the nervous system to release certain chemical messengers that affect the brain; when inhaled, it ends up in the bloodstream quicker than any other drug, and it stimulates the release of dopamine, which is thought to be ‘the source of pleasurable sensations you experience when smoking’.
Additionally, a study by Professor Rubert West, an expert on smoking at University College London, reveals that ‘nicotine addiction is not just about keeping the level of drug topped up to avoid withdrawal symptoms. One way addiction works is by forming an association between situations where a person would typically smoke, which then creates the impulse to smoke when they find themselves in that situation again. A lot of daily smokers report very strong situational cravings’. There is undoubtedly danger in associating smoking with good times and relaxation, which is exactly what social puffing does to your brain - smoking over a drink with friends can feel comforting, which makes it understandably desirable to attempt to relive that feeling (or bring back a snippet of it) during a stressful day.
2. Social smoking still damages your health
It’s common knowledge that smoking affects both your body and mind in multiple ways, from causing severe (and often irreversible) conditions, to simply messing with your appearance, social life and even sex drive. Whilst a smoker who consumes less cigarettes than their heavily addicted counterpart is at lower risk of suffering the effects, there are still significant health risks involved. Cigarette smoke is FULL of toxic chemicals, with researchers having identified upward of 250 poisonous chemicals and 70 toxins which are known to contribute to cancer. There is no confirmed ‘safe’ level of exposure to cigarette smoke, and studies have depicted that even smoking between one and four cigarettes a day can be associated with heart disease, lung cancer and multiple other several conditions.
On a lighter (but still important) note, social smoking severely damages your skin, with every cigarette smoked contracting the blood flow for 30 minutes. When it comes to your all-over state of wellbeing, nicotine famously messes up with your mental health, as well as taking a serious toll on your sex life. Are those few puffs really worth it?
3. It’s hard to switch back to occasional smoking once you’ve become addicted
Professor Rubert West states that, whilst switching from daily smoking to occasional smoking is possible, it’s often problematic. ‘Most smokers can’t do it for the same reason most alcoholics can’t return to controlled drinking. It’s all or nothing’, says West. ‘I’m cutting down’ is a popular saying, with many people assuming it’s easy to slowly drop the amount of cigarettes you smoke on a daily basis, but your social circumstances and stress factors are very likely to affect that promise you’ve made to yourself. With nicotine having the ability to create an instant feeling of relaxation, smoking and stress are known to be strongly linked, with challenging times having the ability to mess up with your cutting down journey.
Whilst we know social smoking can be a big temptation, try and reconsider the long-term effects before mindlessly lighting a cigarette up over a glass of wine. Your future self will thank you.