Feature Archive

Can You Get Away With Social Smoking?

The Few 'Chippers' May Be OK -- But You Probably Aren't One

By Daniel DeNoon
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario

Lots of people say they're just social smokers. Odds are, they're fooling themselves.

You've seen them at parties and in bars. They usually bum smokes from more serious cigarette addicts. Their excuse: They aren't really smokers -- they're just social smokers.

Is there really such a thing? The surprising answer is yes. Some people really do smoke just a few cigarettes a week. But if you think you're one of them, think again.

Chippers

Researchers call them "chippers." There's much to learn from this. The term is a slang word for heroin users who try to avoid addiction by infrequent use of small drug doses. It's not a strategy that often works -- for heroin, or for nicotine, says Elizabeth E. Lloyd-Richardson, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry and health behavior at Brown University, Providence, R.I. She's an expert in adolescent and college-age smoking behavior.

"This is absolutely not a good thing to try," Lloyd-Richardson tells WebMD. "We certainly know the health risks associated with smoking. At this point we have not determined a safe amount of smoking. Research also suggests that particularly with adolescents, they often are kind of lulled into this sense they can smoke a little in social situations and then can quit when they go to college or get a job. And we don't actually see that happening that much. Overall, these smokers end up smoking for many, many more years than they intended to."