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9 things you need to know about social smoking

A crowd at a music festival
Do you really want to be a smoker, social or not?

If you only smoke when you’re drinking or hanging out with friends, you probably don’t identify as a “smoker”. You also might not stop to think about the health impacts of lighting up the occasional cigarette. But as soon as you take your first drag, changes start to happen in your body – your pulse rate and blood pressure instantly increase and your heart is forced to work harder.

Even if you only smoke occasionally, it is still really bad for you. Here’s 9 things you need to know before lighting up your next social cigarette.

1. Smoking shortens your life

Every time you take a drag, a poisonous gas called carbon monoxide increases in your bloodstream. Carbon monoxide can cause harm to nearly every organ in your body, leading you to a possibly early demise.

One study shows that on average, every cigarette you smoke shortens your life by 11 minutes. That’s a lot of minutes lost if you are smoking a couple of cigarettes every weekend.

2. Smoking can increase your feelings of stress and anxiety

When you smoke, nicotine travels to your brain quickly, often in under 10 seconds.  It then causes your brain to release adrenaline, which triggers your body’s natural ‘fight or flight’ response – your heart rate and blood pressure increases and blood flow to your heart slows down. You might also experience rapid, shallow breathing and the feeling of a racing heartbeat. All of these reactions can cause feelings of stress and anxiety, and make existing stress and anxiety worse. So, if you’re having a smoke to wind down at the end of the week, maybe its time to rethink your relaxation methods.

3. Smoking prematurely ages your skin

If it’s vanity that could convince you not to smoke on a night out, you should know that smoking can speed up the normal aging process of your skin.  This is because smoking reduces the amount of oxygen that gets to your skin, which in turn causes the skin to lose its elasticity. If you smoke, you are also three times more likely to get wrinkles, particularly around your eyes and mouth.

Friends at a social gathering

4. Smoking can make some conditions more painful

Ouch. Studies have found that smoking can make you feel more sensitive to pain. Because tobacco has an effect on your nervous system, the network of nerves that covers your entire body, after you smoke the messages between your nerves and your brain can become confused. You might notice that when you bump your elbow it hurts more than it normally would. If that’s not annoying enough, cigarette smoke can also give you a headache and cause you back pain.

5. Smoking can make it harder to fall asleep

Have you ever found it hard to get to sleep when you’ve smoked on a night out? This is because nicotine makes your heart race faster and can make you feel more alert, so you feel more awake when you’re trying to fall asleep. There is also good evidence to suggest that smoking increases the likelihood of both snoring and sleep apnoea, which means when you do fall asleep it may not be so soundly.

6. Smoking can cause vision and eye problems

Now you see me, now you don’t…Studies have directly linked smoking to two of the leading causes of vision loss – cataracts and macular degeneration. This is because the chemicals in tobacco slow down bloods and oxygen flow to your eyes. Nicotine also stops your brain from producing Rhodopsin, the chemical you need to be able to see at night.

7. Smoking can affect your body’s ability to heal

Everything your body needs to heal, like nutrients, minerals and oxygen, is supplied through your bloodstream. Nicotine can make your blood vessels tighten, which can make it really hard for all the good stuff to get through to heal your wounds. As a result, they can take longer to heal.

8. Smoking increases the risk of erectile dysfunction

For blokes, smoking can increase your chances of erectile dysfunction—that’s when you’re not able to get or keep an erection. Remember when we said nicotine slows down your blood flow and tightens your blood vessels? Well, to maintain an erection you need a healthy blood supply. No one wants to be let down when it’s time to go to funky town, so for everyone’s sake, stay away from the cigarettes.

9. Tobacco is addictive (not matter how little you smoke)

Because nicotine is so addictive, you can quickly become a regular smoker, even if you only smoke occasionally now. Before long, you may find yourself buying your own cigarettes, starting to smoke alone and waking up in the morning craving a cigarette. So ask yourself, do you really want to be a smoker, social or not?

Someone breaking a cigarette

But the good news is…

Within hours of your last cigarette, your body starts to repair– your heart rate decreases and your blood pressure becomes more stable. Within a day, almost all of the nicotine is out of your bloodstream and oxygen can more easily reach you heart and muscles.

If you're a social smoker and want to quit, it’s a good idea to talk to your friends and ask them to help you by not smoking around you or inviting you out for a cigarette. Cutting down on alcohol might also be helpful if you tend to smoke more when you drink.

If you need help quitting, you can call Quitline on 13 7848 for support or visit Quit HQ, for more information and different quitting methods.

Last updated: 6 November 2018