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Is Being A Social Smoker Actually Bad For You?

In 2014, the CDC reported that the number of self-identified full-time smokers hit an all-time low at 16.8% of adults. Social smoking, however, may be on the rise.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking is the leading cause of preventable illness and death in the United States. It still accounts for one out of every five deaths.

While aggressive awareness campaigns have triggered a steady decline in smoking rates, a recent University of Texas study which surveyed young women under the age of 25 indicated a new trend—light smoking. Of the 9,789 survey respondents, who were all smokers, 62% said they smoked less than five cigarettes per day and 72% said they don’t smoke on a daily basis.

The study reported that “very light smokers” were well-aware of the risks of tobacco. In addition, they were less likely than heavy smokers to report signs of dependence on nicotine.

You've probably seen them at parties and bars. They might have a pack that they keep for special occasions, or they bum from friends and strangers that smoke. Maybe you're one of them. But is there actually such a thing as a social smoker? Or is calling yourself a social smoker just another way of avoiding the fact that you have an addiction?

According to Web MD, social smokers do exist. However, real social smokers are few and far between. That is, most self-professed social smokers actually consume more cigarettes than they want to believe. Why? Because occasional use is not an effective strategy when it comes to habit-forming substances.

Elizabeth E. Lloyd-Richardson, a professor of psychiatry and health behavior at Brown University, says that adolescents in particular can be “lulled into this sense that they can smoke a little in social situations and then quit when they go to college or get a job. And we don’t actually see that happening that much.”

Some researchers even go so far as to suggest that the majority of social smokers are in denial about their use. They might tell themselves that they only smoke while with friends, or at bars or parties. But over time, they'll seek out those situations until eventually, they’re smoking on a daily basis.

While smoking is definitely bad for you no matter how much or how little you do it, the long-term effects of indulging in the occasional cigarette are not well-documented. Though there may not be a safe level of cigarette use, there are levels, and smoking more is certainly worse than smoking less. Some experts believe that if you lead an otherwise healthy lifestyle—including eating a balanced diet and getting daily exercise— smoking one or two cigarettes per week might not be the worst thing you can do for your health.

The real problem is getting away with only smoking once or twice per week. Most people can't. When it comes to nicotine—which may be more addictive than cocaine or heroin—it’s a very slippery slope.

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