We often hear from social smokers, “It’s just one or two cigarettes whenever I go out with friends,” followed by “It’s not that bad!” But the question remains: how does social smoking truly affect the human body?

Before we look into answering this question, let’s clarify what we mean by “social smoking”: 

Social smokers tend to have a cigarette or two whenever they go out or even smoke regularly in certain circumstances. However, they do not smoke daily and usually not when alone. Social smoking often occurs when drinking alcohol, with the notion that socialising is easier when accompanied by a cigarette. The frequency of cigarette consumption by social smokers, as well as regular smokers, within a specific timeframe is not clearly defined.

Social smokers tend to think that one cigarette every once in a while is not harmful, however, research shows that every single cigarette is unhealthy for the human body. 

How does social smoking affect the body? 

Compared to non-smokers, social smokers have a higher risk of developing respiratory infections as well as conditions such as coughing, bronchitis, and asthma which eventually can result in lung cancer. Apart from potential damage to the throat, long-term social smoking can affect other parts of the body such as bones, and joints as well as the skin. There is a chance of developing a cataract and other eye issues as well. 

Let’s keep in mind that smoking in social situations includes inhaling the smoke of other smokers around which increases the risk further. This is called passive smoking and inhaling “secondhand smoke”.

Both smoking and social smoking can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease as well as sexual dysfunction and lower fertility.  

Whether smoking occurs daily or only in social situations, it’s essential to recognise that it’s likely to diminish one’s quality of life

“I don’t smoke cigarettes, I only smoke hookah” 

Younger people nowadays meet up to smoke hookah, also known as shisha or waterpipe. When speaking about the effects of social smoking on the human body, we also consider this form of smoking as it is not less harmful – there is no safe and healthy way of smoking. 

Hookah smoke passes through water, however, contains high levels of chemicals and carbon monoxide. It has the same potential, if not a higher one, to cause cancer in the human body. Having said that, meeting up with friends for one hookah smoking session can be just as harmful to your body as smoking 5 packs of cigarettes. 

Social smoking will not lead to addiction – myth 

If you’re a social smoker, it’s crucial to acknowledge that your body might already have developed a nicotine addiction, even if you don’t feel a daily craving for a cigarette or two. Many long-term smokers started by casually having one cigarette with friends at a time. 

The healthiest choice to make is to stop smoking completely in a moment when the body is not fully dependent on nicotine yet. When you still consider yourself a “social smoker only” – the longer smoking has been a habit, the more difficult it will be to quit. 

In reality, social smoking is not preventing anyone from developing a serious nicotine addiction, and it is just as harmful to the human body as smoking daily. 

If you are struggling to quit smoking, reach out for emotional support/counselling on your journey to becoming a non-smoker. 

Franziska Richter is a transcultural counsellor with the Willingness Team, offering counselling sessions to individuals and couples. She is particularly interested in sexuality, relationship issues, trauma and general mental health. 

If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.