Quitting social smoking.
July 29, 2010 8:17 AM   Subscribe

If you were an occasional smoker and you quit, did you see any noticeable health benefits?

For the last 15 years, I've been an on-and-off smoker. I smoke mostly socially, like when I'm out drinking. Sometimes when I'm very stressed out I will smoke regularly, like several cigarettes on a daily basis, for a few weeks or maybe a month. I've also gone through many months, and once or twice for more than a year where I didn't smoke at all. I'm not really that strongly physically addicted to cigarettes (I don't get withdrawal or think about cigarettes a lot if I don't smoke), but I always go back because I really, really enjoy the habit.

I recently decided that it's kind of stupid to maintain even a casual smoking habit since it's a waste of money. And now that I'm getting older I'm afraid I'm going to get those wrinkles all around my lips. So, even though I like it a lot, I'm planning on just not ever doing it anymore. Which feels pretty anticlimactic since I haven't smoked a cigarette in about a month anyway and I don't really have to do much of anything except just keep on not smoking.

I work out hard almost every day and normally run anywhere from 3-8 miles every other day. But I seem to be on a fitness plateau of sorts, where I can't really get past a certain mileage and pace. This is another reason I want to stop smoking completely, I think it's holding me back a little.

When regular/heavy smokers quit, there are a whole range of physical benefits that come with it. I don't expect anything quite that dramatic, but will I still see any subtle health benefits if I quit for good? I'm most interested in whether or not this is going to help me gain some cardio endurance.

(If it matters, I've never smoked more than 5 cigarettes in a day.)
posted by howrobotsaremade to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I guarantee you that you smoke more than you think you do.

You will experience the same benefits that heavy smokers do, because you are still doing THE SAME DAMAGE.
posted by micawber at 8:21 AM on July 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was an occasional/social smoker for around 5 years. No problems 'quitting' and no noticeable change in health or anything else. (of course I wasn't a runner so ymmv)
posted by missmagenta at 8:24 AM on July 29, 2010

Why not give The Easy Way To Stop Smoking by Allen Carr a read? It will help you get to another level mentally when it comes to smoking and working out.

If you read the book I guarantee you will run faster.
posted by fantasticninety at 8:27 AM on July 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

You'll get all the same kinds of long-term benefits that "regular" or "heavy" smokers get, since the effects of smoking are cumulative over your whole life. If you smoke an average of "just" 3 cigarettes a day, that's about a thousand a year = 10,000 a decades = 10s of thousands for your life. I wouldn't call that "light" smoking -- that's smoking. And this is taking into account that you go for stretches without smoking at all. The standard risks of smoking (cancer is just one of many) apply to you, and you'll reduce them if you stop smoking.

Now, maybe that's so obvious that you already knew it and you're only asking about more "subtle" things. But some people seem to think that they can dodge the health risks of smoking by being a "light" or "social" rather than a "regular" or "heavy" smoker. It's great to also think about the more minor, immediate benefits of quitting smoking, but remember that all the worst risks are still an issue no matter how you choose to characterize your smoking.
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:31 AM on July 29, 2010

I wasn't an occasional smoker but a pack a day man for many years, and the primary and most noticeable change was one that I didn't expect at all, and may affect a casual smoker as well; quitting allowed me to develop a much better sense of smell.

And by much better, I mean it was like going from being blind to seeing everything in technocolor.

The two primary side effects of this were; 1.) I realized how bad cigarette smoke actually smelled (which surprised me more than I thought, but it helped to reinforce my urge to never smoke again) and from a health standpoint 2.) I suddenly cared a lot more about what I ate. Because I could taste food in a way that I hadn't ever before, I found myself eating a lot more and better food.

The more could have been a problem, so I was really careful about monitoring my weight, but the better was a real boon, because as a smoker, I ate a lot of crappy food and didn't really care. As a nonsmoker who could now detect a lot more nuance, my palate became much more refined and the quality of the food I was eating went up quite a bit

This, happily, led to better general health overall.

Congrats on quitting by the way. The thing I found that helped me deal with not smoking when I was enjoying a drink was salted peanuts. For me, they filled that void perfectly.
posted by quin at 8:34 AM on July 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I once smoked in a sort of similar way (in the car, while drinking, etc.). Very casual smoking, and certainly not in a 'pack a day' sort of way. One day, I just quit. I'm sure it's helped me not go downhill so fast, but I don't really feel any better, but I never really felt that bad. I don't really miss the cigarettes, either.
posted by Gilbert at 8:39 AM on July 29, 2010

I've been told by many people that the single most important infographic they ever saw on what happens to your body as soon as you stop smoking was this one:

What happens to your body if you stop smoking right now

I hope it helps!
posted by namewithhe1d at 8:41 AM on July 29, 2010 [7 favorites]

Honestly, I didn't notice any immediate health benefits. The benefits I noticed were an increase in my bank account and no more gross smoke-smelling fingers and hair.

However, I fully realize that smoking was doing all kids of bad things internally and I am happy I finally quit. I smoked for about 3-4 years off and on, usually a pack a week, maybe a bit more. Much more during finals.

Congrats (hopefully) on your decision!
posted by rachaelfaith at 8:42 AM on July 29, 2010

I was exactly the same kind of smoker as you. Never more than 5 even on my worst day, more often just smoking a couple when out with friends, and could easily quit for months at a time. The fact that it was easy to quit made it easy to start again because I knew I could just quit again. And I used to hang out in bars a lot where the cigarette companies would give away free packs in exchange for your name and address, so I could easily support my habit just with the freebies.

What got me to stop for good was reading about how even light smoking (and smoking "light" cigarettes) was just as bad for you. And realizing that if I wasn't physically addicted, I really had no excuse for doing that to myself. It was just a "duh" moment when I realized I was being stupid and could stop being stupid with a minimum of effort.

It is kind of anti-climactic to quit, because you don't see these immediate benefits. But even my husband, who smoked a pack a day, didn't really see the "clouds opening up to sunshine and rainbows and angels singing" immediate benefits of quitting. It's much, much more subtle than that. I think the biggest thing for me was not feeling quite so disgusting the morning after a night out - hangovers were much less severe when it was just booze I was recovering from. I am more active now than I was as a smoker, and I doubt I would be doing a 90+ mile bike ride this weekend if I were still a smoker.

Just decide you're a non-smoker. It's really the best way to do it given you already stopped a few weeks ago. Sure, you'll mourn the pleasure of a cigarette, and there will be nights out, probably when you're drunk, that you kinda reeeeallly want a cigarette. But just don't smoke one, because you're a non-smoker. You'll be much happier the next morning.
posted by misskaz at 8:45 AM on July 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

One data point:

Back when I was an occasional smoker (in college) I stopped smoking at parties and when drinking because I was going to start running. I did notice that eventually my breathing was better -- but that may have been more about the running more often than the ceasing smoking.

Except that when I fell back on that promise to myself and smoked on weekends, I noticed it the next week when I was running.

Good luck. I'm more than an occasional smoker now, but I still run, but I'm sure I'd be better if I'd quit.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:46 AM on July 29, 2010

Three-quarter-pack-a-day smoker, quit for New Year's. Haven't noticed a single change besides spikier moods, nor has my partner.
posted by Etrigan at 9:43 AM on July 29, 2010

You will experience the same benefits that heavy smokers do, because you are still doing THE SAME DAMAGE.

I guess this kind of thing comes from good intentions, but you harm your credibility with such hyperbolic statements.

One cigarette (or one pack, smoked over a week), does not magically contain the same volume of tar, smoke, addictive nicotine, and various carcinogenic molecules as, oh, say 280 cigarettes does (the number smoked in a week with a 2 pack/day habit).

Studies have found that small doses of cigarette smoke are damaging in the SAME WAYS as heavy smoking, but not to the same degree. You know, like you would expect.

Personally, I know that when I was smoking a pack a day, my blood pressure felt higher while sitting still, my heart would sometimes race on its own, and headaches were more common. Now I smoke less than a pack per week, and all of those symptoms are gone.

So light smoking is bad for you.

Heavy smoking is very very bad for you.

The trouble is that light smoking very easily becomes moderate smoking . . .
posted by General Tonic at 10:24 AM on July 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I re-read Allen Carr's the EasyWay to Stop Smoking last night and he says that casual or light smokers are torturing themselves more than a heavy smoker because they're going through nicotine withdrawl more often. Then there's the whole any smoking is bad for you concept.

I was a pack a day smoker from 18-32, then had five to ten a day for the past year, and none since 6pm yesterday. I've been on Chantix four times. I've read EasyWay twice. And I'm going to my first NicA meeting tonight. I've quit more times than I can count and I have finally learned that it's the one at a party or a bar or just to prove to myself that I've quit that drags me back down into being a smoker again.

Just stop smoking them completely. They're not doing anything for you.

Sorry for the lecture, I feel passionate about quitting this morning.
posted by elsietheeel at 10:32 AM on July 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

You will experience the same benefits that heavy smokers do, because you are still doing THE SAME DAMAGE.

I guess this kind of thing comes from good intentions, but you harm your credibility with such hyperbolic statements. ...

So light smoking is bad for you.

Heavy smoking is very very bad for you.

Well, you're right, of course, that "light" smoking (whatever that means) is less risky than "heavy" smoking (whatever that means). But the problem is that people, including the OP, all too easily characterize their smoking as "light" or "social." By no means is it clear that what the OP is doing is "light" smoking. If the OP is smoking around a thousand cigarettes a year, I wouldn't call that "light." And I think it's pretty clear that the comment about how it does the "same damage" refers to qualitatively the same damage, not the exact same risk of a particular outcome.
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:50 AM on July 29, 2010

I suspect you already know that smoking was bad, mmm-kay? Congratulations on quitting.

If you stopped smoking altogether a month ago, you're probably already beginning to experience a slight improvement in your lung capacity that should continue over the next few months. This is often too gradual and subtle for casual former smokers to notice, but if you're a runner, you might feel it a bit.
posted by timeo danaos at 11:04 AM on July 29, 2010

I sleep better because I don't snore anymore.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:06 AM on July 29, 2010

I was a social smoker for a number of years, and after I quit I found I was getting sick less often and my sense of smell improved. I don't know about cardio endurance, mine sucked then and it sucks now - but it's still worth quitting just for the amount of money you'll save. Good luck!
posted by Space Kitty at 11:18 AM on July 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, you're right, of course, that "light" smoking (whatever that means) is less risky than "heavy" smoking (whatever that means).

Light smoking would be smoking a few cigarettes a month, like when you go out for drinks or play cards.

Heavy smoking would be a pack a day.

I'm not trying to argue that people who don't smoke very much are not at risk. I just don't think it's helpful to imply that cutting back to a pack-per-month after a pack-a-day habit is "Just as bad, mm-kay?"
posted by General Tonic at 12:02 PM on July 29, 2010

From some smoking cessation materials where I work, obviously the degree of the improvement depends on the level of impairment:

What Happens to Your Body When You Quit Tobacco?

At 20 minutes after quitting:

* Blood pressure decreases.
* Pulse rate drops.
* Body temperature of hands and feet increases.

At 8 hours:
* Carbon monoxide level in blood drops to normal.
* Oxygen level in blood increases to normal (if no
lung disease).

At 24 hours:

* Chance of a heart attack decreases.

At 48 hours:

* Nerve endings start regrowing.
* Sense of smell and sense of taste improve.

At 2 weeks to 3 months:

* Circulation improves.
* Walking becomes easier.
* Lung function improves.

At 1 to 9 months:

* Coughing, sinus congestion, tiredness, shortness of breath decrease.

At 1 year:

* Excess risk of coronary heart disease is decreased to half that of a smoker.

At 5 years:

* From five to 15 years after quitting, stroke risk is reduced to that of people who never smoked.

At 10 years:

* Risk of cancer drops to as little as one-half that of continuing smokers.
* Risk of ulcer decreases.

At 15 years:

* Risk of coronary heart disease is now similar to that of people who have never smoked.
* Risk of death returns to nearly the level of people who have never smoked.
posted by Kimberly at 12:08 PM on July 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've quit, restarted, and requit a few times, though I was never a heavy smoker (about a pack a week for a decade), and each time I stopped, within a week I was able to breathe easier and more effectively; my body odor changed for the better (no more sour-old-man smell!); my ability to taste food and wine improved; my skin got springier and, for lack of a better word, younger; and my overall sense of physical well-being improved dramatically (minor mystery aches and pains reduced, more energy). All of these started pretty much immediately and continued to improve steadily over the first year or so of being a nonsmoker.

Also, now when I break down (about twice a year) and bum a cigarette, due to stress or drunkenness or whatever, I get that first drag and think, "aaaaahhhh, sweet friend! how i've missed you!" on the first couple draws... then by the end of it, my body is crampy and nauseous and I feel like I've been (mildly) poisoned. As, in fact, I have. Which helps me stay motivated to remain a nonsmoker.

Who knows what your experience will be, but, given your level of physical fitness, I'm sure it will be a huge improvement. Congrats and keep it up.
posted by Erroneous at 12:19 PM on July 29, 2010

I was a social smoker when I was an undergrad - didn't notice any health benefits when I quit. A couple of years ago, I went to Japan and started smoking on the weekends, 2 or 3 a night, Thursday through Saturday. I was the healthiest I have ever been. I stopped the social smoking when I returned the US, and my health fell apart. I think that if you are basically living a healthy life, then an occasional cigarette doesn't hurt.

If you are truly a light smoker, then you might not see any health benefits. However, five cigarettes in a day is not light smoking, it is real smoking.
posted by betweenthebars at 12:23 PM on July 29, 2010

Light smoking would be smoking a few cigarettes a month, like when you go out for drinks or play cards.

Heavy smoking would be a pack a day.

Well, the OP is talking about something in between those. A pack a day would be about 7,000 cigarettes a year, and yes, that's heavy smoking. But the OP mentioned 5 a day as a cap. 5 a day for a year is around 1,000 cigarettes a year. Do that for 7 years, and you've done the equivalent of smoking a pack a day for a year. To call that "light" smoking would be pretty arbitrary.
posted by Jaltcoh at 12:28 PM on July 29, 2010

Actually I'm wrong. An average of just 3 a day (significantly less than the OP's maximum) for 7 years would be about the same as a pack a day for a year. 5 a day (the OP's maximum) for 4 years would be exactly the same as a pack a day for a year.
posted by Jaltcoh at 12:38 PM on July 29, 2010

Response by poster: Oh man. Let's put the axes away, we don't need to grind them in this thread. We all know smoking is bad for you. Let's just leave that point aside and not quibble over the details of how bad it is.

Maybe I can help focus the question a bit more.

First of all:
I am not looking for advice on how to quit smoking.

I appreciate the concern, but I've already decided I'm not smoking anymore and that's really it. I did read the Easyway book once, my dad has it. I hated it. It comes across as some kind of weird, creepy NLP hypnosis thing. I'm glad that it's helped some people though.

For the sake of detail:

I just looked through my online banking transactions from the last year. I only ever buy cigarettes at one particular tobacco store, so I was very easily able to check how much I smoked since last time this year.

Going by that, I've bought 8 packs of cigarettes total in the last year. That's 160 cigarettes, but I always let people bum a lot of them off me or wasted a lot of them too. So it would be likely that I've probably smoked between 100 and 160 cigarettes in the last year.

I don't smoke 5 cigarettes a day, every day. That would be the most I've ever smoked in one day or on a night out. Smoking any more than that makes me sick to my stomach. If I go out, I usually have one or two.

The question is:
Given the amount I usually smoke, will I be very likely to notice a difference physically after quitting completely?

I am mostly curious because I haven't really noticed much of an improvement in my fitness level or how I feel at all in the last month or so. If the answer is going to be "not much" or "just a little", that's fine. Thanks for the on-topic answers, those have been very helpful.
posted by howrobotsaremade at 12:42 PM on July 29, 2010

Jaltcoh, I agree with that. Not a light smoker.
posted by General Tonic at 12:43 PM on July 29, 2010

I was like you. Cigarettes with cocktails, and all that. Occasionally smoked without drinks, but very irregularily. Briefly dabbled with a two-cigarettes four-days-a-week habit.

After quitting for good? (because my lovely then-GF/now-wife was quitting for real)

No. Noticeable. Change
posted by joelhunt at 12:53 PM on July 29, 2010

I went from being a heavy smoker to a nonsmoker to an intermittent smoker who usually (but not always) was aiming to be a nonsmoker, just (willfully) screwing up from time to time. I've had a lot of opportunity to observe my body under a wildly varying range of smoking behaviors. In my opinion there is a definite cardiovascular detriment to be found in even a single event of moderate smoking (5-10 cigarettes) or even a few days of light smoking (3 or less). There really isn't a hell of a lot of data I could ever find on really light, intermittent smoking, but if fitness is important to you I guarantee you that every time you smoked while out for a drink or went a week smoking 3 or 5 every day you impaired your performance and set yourself back. After a month no, you're not going to be able to notice any profound change. But I suspect that improving the consistency of your ability to work out to a fuller potential, day in and day out, will pay off in the long term.
posted by nanojath at 1:04 PM on July 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Er, I'm not really sure why all these people are describing the effects of quitting their pack-a-day habits; smoking a pack a day has different (& more sever) effects than smoking a few packs a year, and there really are truly people who do the latter, and aren't trying to downplay their habit.

I've known several people who smoked at the level you calculate based on your purchases - that is, a handful of cigarettes a week, essentially. Like you, they had no problem stopping for weeks or months or longer whenever they forgot to buy cigarettes, were broke, weren't hanging out with many smokers, etc. None of them has remarked on any changes health or fitness changes, or really any changes at all other than the fact that if they do have a cigarette at a party now, it feels harsher and their throat feels crappier the next day (and it makes hangovers worse.) Anecdotally, life style changes involving diet, sleep, and exercise (frequency or type) seem to have made a much bigger difference. However, I should note that I don't know many runners, and it is completely possible that a runner might be more likely to notice subtle differences that a bike commuter (for example) wouldn't.
posted by ubersturm at 1:18 PM on July 29, 2010

Eight packs a year is $80 if you're paying $10 a pack. I don't know where you live or what brand you buy, but I'm probably highballing that. $80 is nothing to sneeze at, but you're spending it on something you "really, really enjoy". So I'm guessing this isn't about the money.

I'm a bit puzzled why you're asking the question - especially if you've already reached the conclusion that you're "not smoking anymore". Get out there and see for yourself. Give it at least a few months more. Either you will continue to gain endurance over time or you won't.

Whether the continued self-restraint is worth it or not is a subjective question, and is totally up to you.
You're going to feel like a bit of a masochist whichever way you go - either you'll give in and hate yourself a bit for it, or you'll have a few drinks and hate yourself a bit for not giving in...
posted by itheearl at 11:50 PM on July 29, 2010

The question is:Given the amount I usually smoke, will I be very likely to notice a difference physically after quitting completely?

And the answer(from a former pack-a-day Camel guy)is: Maybe, and maybe not. Either way, you're making a smart choice, and doing yourself some good.
posted by spirit72 at 8:04 AM on July 30, 2010

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