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Social Smoking: Risks and Effective Cessation Strategies


54% of people identify themselves as social smokers, someone who smokes with others, according to research published in 2011.

Some people smoke cigarettes when they are in comfortable social situations or with their friends, often alongside alcohol. Many people who social smoke think it is a harmless activity, but any kind of cigarette smoking is a health risk and can develop into addiction.

Here we’ll explore what social smoking is and its impact before moving onto some of the strategies that can be employed to help you quit.

What is Social Smoking?

Although there is no official scientific definition of social smoking, someone is considered to be a social smoker when they smoke:

  • occasionally
  • with other people
  • in the evening
  • when they drink alcohol
  • on a night out

Some people who smoke socially can go for long periods of time without smoking a cigarette and may not display the same addictive behaviours as someone who smokes regularly.

Social and Health Impacts

Every cigarette is damaging for your health, regardless of how many or how often you smoke.

Research shows that even light smoking is linked with significant health risks, including:

  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Poor quality of life
  • Respiratory tract infections
  • Weakened immune system

But that’s not all. Social smoking also carries risks for those around you. Just as regular smokers do, social smokers can pass on secondhand smoke to those around them. Secondhand smoke can cause a myriad of symptoms in non smokers, like:

  • Asthma
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Coughs 
  • Lung cancer
  • Stroke

Social smoking also results in the same social consequences as regular smoking. For example, it can result in financial pressure, especially as it is often associated with other social behaviours such as going out or drinking alcohol. Social smokers also find their clothes smell of tobacco smoke which may have a social impact.

From Casual Habit to Addiction

Some research shows that social smokers believe they are not addicted to smoking and so are less motivated to give up.

However, social smokers may not be addicted to smoking at a chemical level e.g. nicotine but they may be habitually addicted to the behaviour. So, individuals may only crave cigarettes when they are in a socially, familiar environment.

Nicotine in cigarettes is highly addictive. Let’s look at why this is.


Source: Benowitz (2010)

When you smoke, nicotine is transported to your lungs where it is absorbed into the bloodstream, and travels to your brain. Here, it binds to special receptors called nicotinic cholinergic receptors which release chemicals called neurotransmitters.

One of these neurotransmitters is dopamine which is associated with pleasurable behaviours and reinforcement effects, such as improved mood, weight loss or enhanced performance. These ‘feel good’ factors are what drives people to smoke more.

Cessation Strategies and Importance

When it comes to quitting smoking, willpower is important but when combined with extra support like cessation aids, it’s easier.

There are many different aids to choose from, but most are designed to manage nicotine cravings and the symptoms that may tempt you to light up a cigarette.

There are several types of smoking aids available to help you quit, including: 

  • Nicotine replacement therapies
    • Patches
    • Lozenges
    • Nasal sprays
    • Inhalers
    • Gum
    • Mouth sprays
    • Microtabs
  • Vapes and e-cigarettes
    • Prescription medicines
    • Varenicline (Champix - currently unavailable in the UK)
    • Bupropion (Zyban)

Zyban: A Potential Solution

Zyban is a prescription-only medicine that can be prescribed to support quitting smoking. It is available in tablet form and contains the active ingredient, bupropion. Zyban works by inhibiting dopamine and noradrenaline reuptake, and reduces the withdrawal symptoms that occur when smoking stops.

1 in 5 people who use Zyban to quit smoking remain non-smokers one year later. Zyban is a good anti-smoking aid for people who have struggled to quit in the past because it alters brain chemistry, so that nicotine is less effective, lowering the interest in nicotine and its associated reward pathways and reducing cravings.


Social smoking is a relatively common behaviour and is defined as ‘smoking with others’. It often occurs amongst groups of friends in social situations and with alcohol. But social smoking carries the same health risks as regular smoking and it may be that you need some help quitting. There are effective smoking aids available, such as Zyban to help you quit cigarettes for good.

If you’re worried about your smoking habits, explore our dedicated smoking page and explore some of the anti-smoking aids you could try to help you quit.


NIH, (2011) Social Smoking Among Young Adults: Investigation of Intentions and Attempts to Quit.
NIH, (2010) Health Effects of Light and Intermittent Smoking: A Review.
NIH, (2010) Nicotine Addiction.
NIH, (2009) Social Smoking.
ONS,(2021) Adult smoking habits in the UK: 2021.

Authored By

Leanne Edermaniger

Medical Content Writer
Leanne is a science and health content writer focusing on human health and biology while utilising her solid academic background.

Published on: 11/01/2024

Reviewed By

Adil Bhaloda

Adil provides governance for the online services, overseeing prescription dispensation in line with UK pharmacy standards.

Reviewed on: 11/01/2024
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