Why your social smoking habit is more unhealthy than you think

Francesca Specter
Yahoo Style UK deputy editor
Social smoking has serious implications for your health. [Photo: Getty]

Smokers across the country are currently taking part in Stoptober.

The 28-day campaign, which runs throughout October and is organised by Public Health England, is designed to help people overcome their smoking habit.

But, what if you only light up on the odd occasion? How does it affect your health?

It’s all too easy to assume, if you only smoke once in a blue moon, that you shouldn’t be too worried about it affecting your health.

Sadly, this is not the reality. So-called “social smoking” can still be significantly damaging to your health, according to Dr Diana Gall, a representative for online medical service Doctor 4 U.

READ MORE: What are the health implications of e-cigarettes?

Social smoking ‘not safe’

“No amount of smoking is safe,” Gall tells Yahoo UK, explaining cigarettes contain over 7,000 toxic chemicals which cause “immediate damage” to your body every time you breathe them in.

“Social smokers are still exposed to the same amount of toxins in each cigarette as habitual smokers,” she adds.

“The delicate lining of the lungs becomes inflamed each time you smoke, and over time, whether you smoke regularly or occasionally, this can cause serious damage to the lungs and airways leading to breathing problems and chronic illnesses such as emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.”

The occasional fag with your colleagues could increase your risk of emphysema. [Photo: Getty]

You might also experience the same undesirable side effects and cosmetic issues as smokers, says Gall, such as bad breath and discoloured teeth.

Alcohol and smoking

For many social smokers, the habit goes hand in hand with a glass of tipple – and this combination does further damage, says Gall, explaining: “Both tobacco and alcohol are highly addictive substances, and are equally damaging to the body. Regularly taking both increases your chances of developing cancer, particularly mouth and throat cancer, as well as cardiovascular disease.”

READ MORE: Need to quit smoking? Try sniffing chocolate, say scientists

It can also have a detrimental effect on your mental state.

“One substance may increase or decrease the effects of the other. For instance, in large amounts alcohol is a depressant and smoking is a stimulant, and when taken together smoking may counteract the sedative effects. The stimulant effects of smoking may impair your judgment and encourage you to drink more alcohol,” Gall adds.

Passive smoking

Your social smoking habit doesn’t just put you at risk – it also exposes the friends you’re socialising with to harmful chemicals.

“Smoking in a social setting exposes your friends to the same amount of chemicals that you’re inhaling. Especially being in close proximity to someone while smoking you’re putting them at the same risks as yourself. They’re breathing in the same toxic chemicals, and their risk of developing illnesses related to smoking increases just the same,” says Gall.

READ MORE: Smoking near pregnant women increases unborn child's asthma risk

“The chemicals can linger in a room for up to 5 hours, meaning that all of those people passing in and out of the room are exposed to all these toxins and risks.”

Need help quitting smoking? Visit the NHS website for support and advice to help you give up.