My parents were smokers, and I said I would never smoke. Then came high school and teenage rebellion, so I tried smoking, but I was always athletic and it never really took root.
After high school, I joined the military, which had a strong smoking culture at that time. It was a social thing -- taking a break with a friend and having a smoke. I continued smoking until my late 20s. When I quit, I got athletic again and ran four marathons.
Then, in my mid-30s, life got rough. In a period of 6 months,...
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.
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."
It's not entirely a bad thing for a person to try to smoke just a little instead of a lot, says Jack E. Henningfield, PhD, professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical School.
"The good side is if a person is honest, and truly is only smoking in social situations -- and those are not daily situations -- that person is at a lower level of dependence," Henningfield tells WebMD. "If properly motivated, such people should be able to quit completely. And they should. A person wouldn't go out to their car four times a week and inhale exhaust fumes. But that is the health equivalent of smoking cigarettes four times a week."