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Smoke free areas outside bars could stamp out “social smoking”

Alcohol and cigarettes “go hand in hand,” say social smokers in new study

Caroline White

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

A smoking ban in areas immediately outside bars could help curb “social smoking” because this type of smoking tends to go hand in hand with drinking, suggests a small qualitative study published online in Tobacco Control.

The international evidence suggests that while the prevalence of smoking per se has decreased, social smoking—smoking intermittently or only in given situations—has increased among young adults, say the New Zealand researchers.

And social smokers are not including in stats on smoking nor targeted by quit programmes, yet may progress to daily smoking relatively easily, they add.

The authors carried out in-depth interviews in 2011 with 13 social smokers, aged between 19 and 25. Analysis of the transcripts showed that social smokers often found it very difficult to reconcile their stated identity as non-smokers, who smoke.

They managed this conflict by sharply differentiating themselves from “addicted” smokers and deploying strategies such as never smoking alone; asserting that they controlled when, where, and how much they smoked; and defining their smoking as “a temporary phase.”

They also blamed alcohol for their behaviour, describing smoking and drinking as going “hand in hand, so absolving themselves of any responsibility for their actions, including “binge smoking,” which they invariably regretted later.

Some said that alcohol prompted cravings for a cigarette, which they wouldn’t otherwise experience. One respondent said: “Some nights I can smoke 14/15 ciggies or a pack while I’m drinking but I can never do that without alcohol.”

When asked for their views on mandating smoke free areas outside bars, which could help break the link between smoking and drinking, all but one participant strongly backed this proposal, and indicated that it would help them cut down or stop smoking.

“Introducing smoke-free outdoors bars could reduce social smoking by removing cues that stimulate this behaviour and changing the environment that facilitates it,” suggest the authors. “Such a policy would eliminate the current intersection between smoke-free and smoking spaces and create a physical barrier that, for some, would make accessing the smoking zone too difficult.” they conclude.

Meanwhile, anti-smoking campaigners have reacted angrily to claims that plain packaging for cigarettes will have no public health benefit.

A new report, from the Adam Smith Institute, which was published ahead of a planned public consultation on tobacco packaging expected to launch this spring, argues that plain, standardised packaging would increase smuggling and could set a "dangerous precedent" for other products. But campaigners say there is no evidence to support this claim.

Plain cigarette packs would still have the same covert markings, tax stamps and health warnings, making them no easier to counterfeit than current packs, they say.

The charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) said that by publishing the report, the Adam Smith Institute was simply acting as a "mouthpiece" for cigarette companies and promoting the views of the tobacco industry.

Sarah Woolnough, Cancer Research UK's director of tobacco control, said: "[The author] misunderstands the case for plain packaging and is mistaken about the aim of the policy.

The policy is not intended to reduce the smoking rate today. It's about stopping the next generation from taking up smoking. It will give millions of children one less reason to start.”

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