Help a social smoker quit. For good this time. Really.
September 15, 2009 2:30 PM   Subscribe

My name is semacd and I am a social smoker.

So is my significant other. We both smoke sometimes when we drink. I'd say we smoke 1-10 cigarettes a couple of times a month (so, 2 (low end) - 20 (binge-fest) cigarettes a month). Probably 10 per month is most common. Neither of us ever craves the nicotine rush we hear about. We just LOVE to smoke. We love the smell. We love the oral satisfication. We love the camaraderie of being out with friends, drinking beers and sharing a cigarette. We love the romance of smoking - i.e. a cigarette in some rough and tumble country is really hard for us to resist. Our best friends are serious smokers - pack a day smokers, so that makes it hard too. We do exert a LOT of control - we'd smoke every day if it weren't for the health consequences because we think it's so fun - but we still falter with some regularity.

But we both really want to quit. We hate that we ever smoke. Do you have any tips? We've quit for months/years but are smoking again. We've tried rules, like "only 1 on new years!' to make quitting entirely not seem like such a burden. But that doesn't work because we keep giving ourselves exceptions. And obviously booze doesn't help - just a little and we start granting exemptions to ourselves. The obvious answer may be to also give up booze, but that would mean seeing our friends much less, and that's, therefore, really unappealing.

I don't think the standard advice works for us all that well. We don't feel any health consequences even though we work out a lot, so we don't have that immediate motivation. Likewise looks. I could be wrong, but I don't think either of us look like we smoke. I've thought about rewarding ourselves when we hit certain milestones, but can't find anything more compelling than health, and that doesn't seem to be rewarding enough to prevent us from ever falling off the wagon.

But we understand the health consequences, and don't want to be the idiots who do that to ourselves more than we've already done. If you were a social smoker like we are, what worked for you?
posted by semacd to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
So, why exactly do you want to quit?
posted by scarykarrey at 2:45 PM on September 15, 2009

If you were a social smoker like we are, what worked for you?

Dating and eventually marrying a guy who's allergic to smoke. Well, you asked. Seriously though, it'd be good to stay away from others who smoke for awhile, especially while they're smoking. Do non-smoking activities with your friends, like going to movies. You need to remove temptation as much as possible.
posted by desjardins at 2:45 PM on September 15, 2009

Because we don't want to cause ourselves to get cancer, have a stroke, etc.
posted by Amizu at 2:56 PM on September 15, 2009

If you're smoking no more than 20 cigarettes in a month (in a heavy month), then I'm assuming you're neither physically nor psychologically addicted. Aren't the health benefits of quitting enough of a motivation to just...not smoke?
posted by scarykarrey at 3:00 PM on September 15, 2009

I smoked socially for a long while... but then gradually fell into being a full-time smoker. I would quit for a while, then start social smoking again, then I'd fall into being full-time again a hell of a lot quicker. And in the end I started to not really enjoy social smoking. So in the end it had to be no and no more. Social situations were I would smoke would be hard not smoking (and I did avoid a few). But I stuck it out and now ten years on, I mostly forget I ever smoked in the first place.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:04 PM on September 15, 2009

What worked for me was having the government of my country outlaw smoking in bars and restaurants. Perhaps you should try that.


More seriously, my partner gained a LOT of willpower for a health and fitness regime recently by writing a cheque for a cause she detests, and publically promising to post it to them if she backslid.

So I suggest that you and your partner place a sum of money that you would find painful to lose with a trusted 3rd party -- perhaps one of your drinking buddies -- to be donated to a cause you detest if you are caught smoking.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:07 PM on September 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Start by discarding the notion that there is a difference between "regular smoker" and "social smoker", because there is no difference. You guys are Smokers. Period.
posted by gyusan at 3:09 PM on September 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Tea tree oil or mint toothpicks can satisfy the oral fixation thing. Plus they have this hardened badass mystique thing going for them. I don't know why, but a man chewing on a toothpick while he reads...or pulling it out while he makes a point, I just think it is fucking hot.

I used to social smoke, but gradually I have begun to see all smoking as a kind of insecurity habit. A big flag that says "I'm young and figuring myself out and smoking gives me a way to assert my feelings of immortality while catering to my need to always have something to do because I'm not comfortable enough with myself to just stand around and talk or think, or own who I am without looking like I'm also preoccupied in something very important like SMOKING." That's extreme, I know, but on my most cynical days...

We'll die anyway, we all die of something, blah blah, but if you heard my grandmother's emphysema, I don't think you'd agree that smoking is the way to go. The less I smoked, the more I began to see it as gross. They are cancer sticks, no matter how "sexy" they may appear when you're young. There are other ways to be sexy, like being confident, that don't require hurting yourself.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 3:12 PM on September 15, 2009 [4 favorites]

Allen Carr in the Easy Way book (highly recommended) says that social smokers like yourself are the most miserable smokers of all. He tells the story of a woman who smoked only one cigarette a day but who was miserable because it was on her mind. I recommend you pick up the book.
posted by xammerboy at 4:06 PM on September 15, 2009

I was an indifferent social smoker for 10 years until things got stressful and I became addicted. Then I had to go on Zyban because I went completely nuts from deprivation trying to quit on my own. Even after that I relapsed and it took a while to quit completely. Now I'm fine and never even think about it.

I don't think there's anything wrong with social smoking but bear in mind that you can get hooked at any time, even after years. Cigarettes are stupidly addictive. If that happens to you I heartily recommend prescription drugs. They absolutely killed the cravings for me. Otherwise I'm not sure there are any real tricks or shortcuts to it, other than just deciding not to smoke. You're the one in control.
posted by Marnie at 4:56 PM on September 15, 2009

I quit smoking by saying to myself that I could never, ever smoke a cigarette again. It worked. I'm not being snarky, but it's really that simple. Of course it'll be difficult at first, but it's actually easier than the mental anguish of allowing yourself the occasional relapse with the attendant guilt and bullshit that goes with it. Best of luck!
posted by ob at 5:29 PM on September 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

OK, here is why: Because you're already having trouble quitting, and you're only smoking between two and twenty cigarettes a month.

If you don't quit soon, you'll be smoking between two and twenty cigarettes a day, and it will be thirty-one times harder to quit.

Spoken from experience.
posted by gum at 6:07 PM on September 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I dunno about all this scaring 'em straight, stuff, fellas. None of us liked that much on the other side.

Honestly, I dunno if this is going to be possible for you until you recognize some concrete ill effect that smoking is having in your lives. Because personally, I've found quitting any bad habit is only possible when the idea of tomorrow floats up in your mind even when confronted with the possibilities of tonight. I mean, carpe noctum. I ain't trying to knock pleasure. But I only stopped smoking when a) I realized that I had had a slight cold for six months that went away whenever I went a day or two without; and b) when the thought of the cotton mouth to follow and the sort of ...strain that would hit about halfway through the cigarette occurred to me just as I was tempted to bum one. (Strain because, now that I was off the stuff, a full fag was a little too much, on the border between heady and headachy). And I've slipped more than once. But that's the thing, now when I'm sober I pass a crowded cafe and catch the scent and think of Sunday morning, coffee, etc., but then I think of the badness. And it doesn't appeal. That's the only way I know how to quit any kind of drug. To not want the pain more than the pleasure.
posted by Diablevert at 7:01 PM on September 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't want to harp on the beauty of my scheme, but that's where setting yourself some penalty for backsliding really helps -- it provides an artificial but very real, definite and painful consequence that you can visualise.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:09 PM on September 15, 2009

Could you start smoking herbal/non-tobacco cigarettes? You'd still have something to do with your hands and mouth, but without the nicotine buzz and addiction risk.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:15 PM on September 15, 2009

It was easy for me once I made a slight mental shift. I stopped telling myself that I didn't want to smoke anymore. Because that was a lie. I clearly did want to smoke each time I considered having a cigarette.

But I also DID want to be a non-smoker. It was that simple. Framing it as a positive statement changed everything. I'm pretty easy-going, so saying no to myself doesn't really work; like you said, I kept granting exceptions to myself. I can, though, be a stubborn SOB when I'm after something I want. Having a cigarette, even this one, is not being a non-smoker.

It may not work for you, but give it a try: Instead of trying to NOT smoke, try to BE a non-smoker.
posted by ctmf at 7:36 PM on September 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Nicotine's a psychoactive drug, and y'all are chippers. No two ways about that. Neither do I know any smokers who set out to become smokers. No one sets out to be addicted to nicotine.

There is such a fragile boundary at times between voluntary smoking and addicted smoking--from one day to the next (it seems) you can become physically dependent. If you quit now, you may not have to go through the hell that is quitting when you are addicted. I've done it twice, and I can't imagine anyone volunteering for that experience. And for the record, I loved to smoke! I just began to hate the side effects: stench, filth, expense, and the prospect of an early, painful, death.

I don't know how old you are, but if you're in your late twenties or early thirties, in ten years' time you really will be able to tell the difference between your smoking and non-smoking friends by looking at them. Smoking ages people terribly.

As far as the "romance" of smoking goes--that's all marketing. You must be smarter than to fall for that.

On the more positive side, can you and your SO figure out what it is that you get out of smoking, and then find a more life-enhancing way to achieve the same thing?

Best of luck to you both.
posted by sister nunchaku of love and mercy at 7:47 PM on September 15, 2009

I love i am joe's spleen and whimsical nymph's posts- you could write the check to the NRA, and go visit all the people more advanced in years than you at the nursing home who have health complications from smoking as frequently as you guys do. I think it's important to keep the risks in mind, and even augment them by forcing yourself into debt if you don't comply- you seem to be rationalizing the risks away ("I don't look like I smoke," "I'm still in shape," etc.) It is also important to spend some time thinking about and visualizing the rewards you will get from not smoking.

But in my opinion, you're not going to get ANYWHERE if you don't assess your roadblocks and come up with ways to get around them. Your major roadblock seems to be a situation-specific craving. I completely understand your hesitation to give up being in that situation...I would be averse to giving up seeing some of my friends too. But as far as I'm concerned, you're still going to have to think of a way to alter that situation if you can. Drink less when you go out so that you're less likely to give in. Go make a phone call or take a quick walk around the block when they smoke. Or stay inside if they go out for a smoke. DON'T have a pack of cigarettes on you, and get yourself far, far away from the place where you would be tempted to bum one off of one of them.

Hope this is helpful.
posted by GarotaDaCidade at 8:23 PM on September 15, 2009

Seconding ctmf above: Focusing on BEING a nonsmoker, rather than focusing on not smoking, was a hugely positive mental shift.

More concretely, I kept a list with me- a tiny notebook in my purse or pocket. Every time I thought of a new reason to quit, I'd write it down in there. (Stinky hair. Money better spent on college debt, No more shivering in the cold while the party was inside, etc. etc.) During nasty cravings I'd flip through the book to remind myself that it was really worth it. Sometimes just being aware of the book in my pocket was enough to set me back on track.

I'm with you, though. Smoking was great. But can't I trust myself to have even one these days.
posted by alight at 8:30 PM on September 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Quote: We just LOVE to smoke.
Shortly thereafter quote: We hate that we ever smoke.

I think that you each need to reconcile this very fundamental struggle in your attitudes toward smoking before anything will work. If you "love" it so much, that's going to really get in the way of any sincere attempts to quit.
posted by Citrus at 9:10 AM on September 16, 2009

I started smoking my senior year of high school, and was a social smoker. Then I got to college and smoked more and more frequently. I'd go on walks and find I had been essentially chain smoking the entire time.

I quit over the course of what amounted to two years, at first buying and throwing out cigarettes repeatedly, then simply bumming them off my smoking friends constantly.

What really made me want to quit was mostly the fact that it made breathing difficult. I love riding my bike and I found I couldn't do that as easily anymore. Also my campus amounts to one giant hill, so the trek to class each day was especially taxing on my respiratory system.

It helped to find a balance between "oh god I had one cigarette I've ruined everything might as well smoke a ton more now" and "hey one cigarette can't hurt. Hey another cigarette can't hurt. Or another. Oh look I'm smoking again."

I found I eventually reached a point where either I didn't want a cigarette or, perhaps after a few drinks, even I wanted one I couldn't enjoy it. Your lungs are always full of regret afterward and the smell is never what you remembered it to be.

Speaking of which, if it's any help, this graph is incredibly true.

Best of luck. You can do it.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 9:29 AM on September 16, 2009

The only thing that worked for me is training for a marathon. I realized there's no way I could run for 20+ miles after having smoked the night before. YMMV.
posted by grateful at 10:03 AM on September 16, 2009

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