Social Smoking — Why Sometimes, “Quitters Always Win and Winners Always Quit”

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How many times have you heard someone say, “I only smoke when I drink?” Social smoking, which is the act of smoking tobacco in social settings like parties or bars, is prevalent amongst college campuses nationwide, and can lead to long-term consequences. Many students, however, are not aware of the dangers that can stem from the occasional cigarette. Kamal Harb, director of Health Promotion Services (HPS) at USF, offers weekly, half-hour “Stop Smoking” sessions for any student smoker hoping to quit or to simply explore the option of quitting.

“We try to figure out the incen- tives or triggers [that cause stu- dents] to smoke,” said Harb. “We do this by talking about their personal experience and history with smoking, and trying to find the motive behind their smoking, like drinking or stress,” he said.

According to Harb, drinking is a common incentive for college-aged students to smoke, which follows the statistics reported in a 2011 Oxford Journal health education research study, that found 41% of college-aged smokers were more likely to smoke when drinking or binge-drinking (Health Educ. Res. (2011) doi: 10.1093/her/cyr106). “Alcohol is a depressant and cigarettes are mostly used as a stimulant, so many people, when they start to feel down or tired, will go outside to smoke when they are drinking,” said Harb.

Other triggers for smoking include stress, weight control, and also, break-time. “There’s a romantic notion in going outside to take a break and contemplate and reflect with a cigarette — it’s a time out for some people,” said Harb. And apparently, a time-out with consequences.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), smokers are twice as likely to die from heart disease than non-smokers. Smok- ing also increases chances of devel- oping lung cancer and oral cancer, by 23 times in men and 13 times in women, reports the CDC.

For social smokers, the biggest risk is addiction. “There’s habit and there’s addiction,” explained Harb. Since most social smokers only smoke on weekends and cel- ebrations, they do not immediately develop an addiction to nicotine, said Harb. “However, they develop the habit and you have to break the habit if you want to quit smoking.” “Social smokers have the hardest time quitting because they don’t smoke often enough to feel the repercussions of cigarettes, so they think they have it all under con- trol,” said Harb.

When students come in to the sessions, Harb discusses possible alternatives to their cigarette usage, depending on personal triggers. If stress is a trigger, Harb suggests going on a run, walk, or meditating. An alternative for social smokers could be using a different brand of cigarettes. “If you use a brand that you don’t like, it dissociates that feeling of pleasure,” he said. “It’s all about baby-steps.” Other services include free nicotine gum and lozenge packs, which can cost up to $30-40 retail, said Harb. “The students receive these supplies for free, but there’s a catch — the supply is for one week, so the student has to come back for another session,” he said. Nicotine helps with symptoms of cigarette withdrawal like nervousness and anxiety without the act of smoking, explained Harb.

HPS’s stop smoking sessions began in 2008, at the same time that USF implemented its Smoke Free Policy, which bans cigarette (and other) smoking on campus, with the exception of two designated on-campus areas. The designated smoking areas are located on the bench outside of Rossi Wing on top of Lone Mountain and in the unofficially dubbed “smoking garden” between Gillson and Phelan residence halls.

Ian Scullion, a junior politics major, thinks the designated smoking areas are a positive aspect of ca pus: “When people are smoking around me, it doesn’t really bother me, but I know that it bothers other people. I’m glad there is a place for people to smoke and they don’t have to walk five blocks off campus — and this way, there aren’t cigarette butts around campus everywhere.”

The Smoke Free Policy is part of the community effort to change campus culture, said Harb. “We can remind smokers that there is a designated area to smoke, and keep the air around campus clean— but it has been a challenge to implement.” In order to enforce the Smoke Free Policy, HPS hired several students as ‘Clean Air Marshals’ to guide smokers to designated areas. “People love them, but they also have been harassed. It’s not an easy job,” Harb said. Two Safe Air Marshalls quit due to hostility they received from smokers. To make the job more appealing and safer, the mar- shalls now patrol in twos.

“[The Air Marshals] have come up to people I was with and everything was fine,” said Scullion. “But like Clear Air Patrol? I just thought it was a funny job,” he said.

Senior international studies major Bryce Chiodo said, “I think the school should do a better job at actually enforcing [the policy] because I’m tired of inhaling other people’s smoke.”

In the past year, Harb has seen three students quit smoking. “They quit, they are happy being smoke free, and they were really successful,” he said. On average, it took the smokers 5-6 weeks of stop smoking sessions to quit. “You have to have time to adjust to being a nonsmoker.”

According to Harb, the biggest factor in quitting successfully is having a plan and quitting for yourself. “Many people want to quit because smoking is frowned upon in our culture or because they want to quit for someone else like a relative or girlfriend,” he said. “But to those people I have to say, maybe you’re not ready to quit at this time because you have to quit for yourself.”

And for the social smokers, Harb heeds: “It is better to quit now. It becomes harder and harder to do. Habits are hard to break and you need a plan to figure out what to do.” A simple plan would be telling your friends you are quitting, he suggested, “so that you have to live up to it.”

You can make an appointment for a “Stop Smoking” session with Health Promotion Services on- line at HPS.checkappointments.com

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