Saturday 20 April 2019

So, you enjoy a social smoke?

Can social smoking damage your health and why do we do it?

Stock image
Stock image
Fiona Brennan

Smoking the odd cigarette with friends after a few drinks may seem relatively harmless, but research in the US has suggested that it may be as dangerous as an everyday habit. More than 10pc of the 39,000 people surveyed said they were 'social smokers', compared with 17pc who said they smoked daily. The study found that around 75pc of both groups had high blood pressure, while 54pc had high cholesterol.

"Young people are much more aware of the damaging effects of social smoking on their physical health now than ever before," says clinical hypnotherapist Fiona Brennan ( "Binge smoking on a night out can also make a bad hangover the next day unbearable. Their system cannot cope, as nicotine is so toxic; a teaspoon of pure nicotine would kill a horse.

"Then, there are the effects on mental health. Social smoking can erode confidence. The belief that you need something outside of yourself to be included in a group is very damaging. People want to hang out with you for who you are and not because you smoke."

So, why do some people tend to smoke at social events and nights out, when it isn't something they would usually do day-to-day?

"Social smoking is nothing to do with addiction to nicotine," explains Fiona. "It is all about the desire to belong. When we encounter new challenges in life such as starting college, or a new job, above all we want to fit in.

"If you are in a group and the rest of the group are smoking and are hanging out in the smoking area, you may find yourself wishing to be part of the action, otherwise you fear you will be rejected. This is perfectly normal."

Fiona says that, in addition, the bonding which results from going to the smoking area seems like fun and at the same time increases the desire to smoke.

"A subconscious association is now embedded in the neural networks of your brain; social smoking equals fun and connection. However, it is not the smoking that is fun but the hanging out with peers. Unfortunately, the subconscious mind sees things in black and white and cannot compute this difference."

While it may begin with having two or three cigarettes on a night out, Fiona says there is the possibility of social smoking eventually leading to full-time addiction.

Nicotine is highly addictive, and while the addiction has a physical component, it is mainly psychological. If you start smoking socially, you will first make the connection of having fun and feel it gives you confidence, helping you to relax in social situations. The smoking becomes a crutch on nights out, which then leaks into other areas of college life.

Fiona shares an example, "Pressure in the lead up to exams, going on a date, feeling stressed or anxious in general all now become associated with smoking. If you subconsciously believe that smoking relaxes you, then why not smoke at other times too? Before you know it, it can become an unconscious daily habit that has nothing to do with socialising."

For those who want to quit, Fiona says you do not need to change your social life or avoid going out. "This is a lose-lose situation, as you will begin to feel like you are missing out on all the fun, which then cements the belief that smoking is fun when it isn't.

"Developing true inner confidence is key. This comes from being aware of why you behave the way you do. Continue to go out and be an example to others. Other people, rather than looking down on you, will admire your strength. We are highly suggestible creatures and by choosing to not smoke, you are inspiring others to also quit.

"For the first few times you go out, you will need to break the habit and associations in your mind. I have a wonderful mindfulness technique called the four-second positive pause, which stops people from carrying out negative behaviours."

You can access this technique for free on

Fiona adds that full-time smokers looking to quit will require more psychological work. "Getting to the root of when you first started to smoke is paramount to your success in quitting. Often, full-time smokers started out as social smokers and the habit was developed from there. You need to examine why you are smoking and what you think it is giving you? Do you believe it helps you to deal with stress?

"You then need to start to break these associations in your mind and replace them with healthy pursuits that genuinely deliver relaxation and confidence. For example, going for a walk if you feel stressed, or doing a mindfulness exercise, yoga or chatting to a friend. There are so many things that will really help you that have nothing to do with poisoning your system."

Irish Independent

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