You may enjoy a cigarette or two when hanging out with friends, working late or to relieve stress. But this social or casual smoking habit could be cutting your life short.
“It’s a huge misconception that a few cigarettes here and there won’t hurt you,” says Alexander Prokhorov, M.D., Ph.D., professor in Behavioral Science at MD Anderson. “Smoking any amount can increase your risk for cancer and tobacco-related diseases.”
Furthermore, many casual smokers consider themselves non-smokers. So when their habit becomes more frequent, they don’t notice. “Every time you take a puff, you’re taking a gamble that you’ll become nicotine dependent. And that’s a dangerous game to play,” Prokhorov says. Nicotine is the addictive ingredient in tobacco products.
It’s not just cigarettes, though, that are causing harm. “Tobacco companies know fewer people are smoking conventional cigarettes, so they introduce new forms of nicotine and tobacco,” Prokhorov says. “They’re advertising trendier products, like hookahs, electronic cigarettes and flavored cigars, to make people believe smoking is a fun and safe activity.”
Your best bet? Don’t smoke at all. Below, Prokhorov shares tips to help you avoid social or casual smoking, so you’ll live a longer, healthier life.
Avoid trendy tobacco products
Joining your friends at a hookah bar or café may seem harmless. Hookahs are water pipes that create flavored tobacco vapor. Yet, they’re not safe alternatives to cigarettes. Hookahs contain nicotine and cancer-causing chemicals.
Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are smokeless electronic devices heating up the market. Users inhale a vapor of liquid nicotine similar to the way a smoker puffs on a cigarette. The liquid nicotine inside comes in hundreds of different flavors.
“E-cigarettes are unregulated, so no one knows what dangerous chemicals could be inside,” Prokhorov says. He believes e-cigarettes are novel ways to introduce tobacco smoking to teens and a gateway to conventional cigarettes.
“These trendy tobacco products also help sustain society’s nicotine dependence,” Prokhorov adds. His advice? Steer clear of these products to stay cancer-free.
Acknowledge your smoking habits
Do you bum cigarettes off friends when drinking or smoke a cigar on Sunday afternoons? Your behavior may fly under the radar because you feel like you’re not really a smoker. Nearly one-quarter of smokers have only a few cigarettes a day, or smoke only every now and then.
You can recognize your smoking habits by keeping a journal. Answer these questions:
- When and where you smoke?
- How many cigarettes, cigars or other tobacco products do you smoke?
- Why do you choose to smoke?
- What triggers you to smoke?
“People need to be more health conscious when it comes to smoking,” Prokhorov says. “People read nutrition labels and count calories, but don’t think twice about what they inhale.”
Know the health dangers
Casual smoking doesn’t only cause bad breath and stale, smoky clothes. It also increases your risk for:
- Lung, esophageal, stomach and pancreatic cancers
- Heart and lung disease
- Premature aging and death
- Respiratory tract infection
“There are more than 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke,” Prokhorov says. This includes cancer-causing substances like tar, acetone, butane and formaldehyde, and chemicals people consider occupational hazards. “Workers wear gas masks and special suits to handle these chemicals while smokers willingly inhale these substances to have a good time,” Prokhorov warns. “Think before you puff.”
Try socializing in different ways
Finding new ways to mingle with friends will most likely help you avoid smoking triggers.
- Make a gym date. Exercise is one of the best ways to improve your health. Invite a friend to try a workout class. After a few trips to the gym sans smoking, you’ll start to breathe easier.
- Go to the movies. Catch the latest flick and enjoy healthy theater snacks, like popcorn without butter, instead of a cigarette.
- Visit smoke-free places. Ask your friends to try a restaurant or bar that doesn’t allow smoking.
- Host game night. Invite friends to play your favorite board games in a smoke-free place.
“There are all kinds of ways to have fun without hurting yourself and the people around you,” Prokhorov says.
Get support from family and friends
Tell your loved ones about your decision to quit smoking – even if you kept your habit hidden. Getting support from family, friends and co-workers can make it easier to quit for good.
Plus, if your family or friends are part of your smoking circle, they’ll be less likely to offer you a cigarette. They may even quit with you.
Visit your doctor
Your doctor can be your best quitting advocate and provide cessation resources and tools, like nicotine replacement therapies or counseling services. Your doctor also can better assess your risks for cancer and other diseases if he or she knows you smoke.
So, start today. Kick your social or casual smoking habit to the curb and enjoy a healthier life.