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The Health Risks of Social Smoking

DrSugar Answers: How Dangerous Is Social Smoking?

DrSugar is in the house! This week she's reminding us that smoking, even in moderation, is a habit worth breaking.

Dear DrSugar,
I don't consider myself a smoker, but do smoke socially. I have three or four cigarettes almost every weekend — I tend to smoke when I have a few drinks. I don't think this is dangerous, but am wondering just how bad this is for my health?
One Social Smoker

Thank you for asking this question, as I'm certain that there are many people out there who can relate to you in terms of your smoking patterns. Even though you don't consider yourself a "smoker," you actually are, and can be labeled as a "social smoker." According to the University of Montana website, social smoking is a pattern of tobacco use that is based on the context of its use — smoking in social settings like bars, nightclubs, and sporting or music events. The social situations act as a trigger or cue to the person to smoke. Now that we've defined social smoking, keep reading to learn the health risks of the occasional smoke.


One issue with social smoking, according to WebMD, is that most people who are serious, regular smokers started out as social smokers. However, not all social smokers end up being regular smokers, and data regarding how many social smokers quit, continue smoking occasionally, and progress to becoming regular smokers is not available. Also, the article mentions that experts do not know how many cigarettes are required to cause the variety of illnesses associated with cigarette smoking and that there is no consensus or knowledge if there is such a thing as a "safe" number of cigarettes to smoke.

So, what exactly are the health risks of occasional or social smoking? According to Harvard Health Publications, who cited Dr. Rebecca Schane's research on light and intermittent smoking, there are many health risks associated with social and occasional smoking. These include heart disease due to high blood pressure and cholesterol-clogged arteries, weakened aorta, premature death from cardiovascular disease, cancers (lung, esophageal, stomach, and pancreas), respiratory tract infections, delayed conception in women and poorer sperm function in men, slower recovery from injuries, cataracts, and poorer-related quality of life.

Additionally, social smokers are typically in social situations with other smokers, thus making them more vulnerable to the effects of secondhand smoke. Plus, social smokers are putting those around them at risk by smoking and thus producing secondhand smoke for those around them in their environment.

Given that there is no known "safe" number of cigarettes to smoke, it is hard to say if you are safe from the effects of cigarette smoking. Additionally, research has shown that social smokers are more likely to become regular smokers in the long term. Based on the above information presented, I encourage you to stop smoking, however infrequent, to avoid the effects and complications associated with smoking cigarettes.

Have a question for DrSugar? You can send it to me via private message here, and I will forward it to the good doctor.

DrSugar's posts are for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment recommendations. Click here for more details.

Join The Conversation
moose-juice moose-juice 6 years
I don't even smoke that often, but it is always in situations where I am out with smokers in places that are pretty smokey as it is. This: "Additionally, social smokers are typically in social situations with other smokers, thus making them more vulnerable to the effects of secondhand smoke." seems like one one of those silly points that don't really make sense in a practical situation. I wouldn't be smoking if I wasn't around other smokers, that's pretty much the only reason I was inclined to smoke in the first place, and I'm not going to refuse to hang out with people I like because they smoke or in bars that I think are fun because they are also smokey, whether or not I'm joining in. My usual motivation for having a cigarette or two is that it doesn't smell as bad when you're joining in. I guess the real question is: How much worse is actually smoking 2 or 3 cigarettes than merely being in a bar full of smokers or sitting at a table full of smokers.
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