Social Smoking: Just as Bad as Regular Smoking

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man's brain being used as an ash tray

Many people justify smoking one or two cigarettes once in a while—known as social smoking—by thinking occasional smoking won’t damage their health as much as smoking every day. Unfortunately, smoking fewer cigarettes does not reduce the risk of smoking-related health problems.

Physical Health

With occasional smoking, you still have several health risks, like:

  • Heart disease
  • Lung and other cancers
  • Respiratory tract infections
  • Slower recovery from torn cartilage and other injuries

Brain Health

It’s not just the body—the brain suffers as well. A 2011 study shows that even occasional smoking affects memory. Northumbria University in the United Kingdom gave a memory test to college students who smoked either occasionally, regularly, or not at all. Results showed that both occasional and regular smokers performed much worse than nonsmokers on this task. In fact, social smokers performed just as badly as regular smokers.

Researchers involved in the study concluded that smoking damages memory no matter how often you do it. And decline in smoking-related memory has been linked with changes in the brain, such as brain shrinkage. That can’t be good.

Regain Your Memory

Fortunately, the damage doesn’t have to be permanent. The psychologists who researched how smoking affects memory published another study last year showing that quitting smoking can actually improve memory, restoring everyday memory to nearly the same level as that of people who don’t smoke.

For this study, participants were taken on a tour of a university campus and asked to remember a series of predetermined tasks at specific locations. While current smokers remembered 59% of tasks, people who had given up smoking remembered 74% of their required tasks. Those who had never smoked remembered 81% of tasks.

What Do You Think?

Does knowing that occasional cigarette smoking has the same brain and physical health effects as regular smoking make you think twice before lighting up? If you smoke now, have you found it harder to remember everyday tasks or errands than before you started smoking?

Find Help Near You

Use the SAMHSA Treatment Locator to find substance use or other mental health services in your area. If you are in an emergency situation, this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: call 1-800-273-TALK, or visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We also have step by step guides on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member.

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