Friends say, 'Smoke!'

Originally Published: July 23, 1999 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: July 16, 2010
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Dear Alice,

Hi! Your site is very helpful. I have a few friends who smoke. We are friends since the past four years; they started smoking about a year ago. They tell me to smoke, I don't do it, so they call me a jerk. I have never TOUCHED a cigarette in my life.

(1) Should I smoke?
(2) If I smoke one cigarette about once a week, will it harm me in any way?
(3) Will it make me a chain smoker?
(4) Which is the safest brand of cigarette, health wise?

Very Confused

Dear Very Confused,

It sounds like you are faced with a pretty common dilemma: wanting to make your own decisions about your behaviors while your friends are putting on the pressure. It's great that you want to collect some information so that you can weigh the options in your own mind. Maybe you can even bring some of the info back to your pals! People smoke for many different reasons. Some do it because they think it looks cool. Others saw their family members smoke and see smoking as "a grown up thing to do" or that it makes them seem mature. Some people like the feelings commonly associated with smoking — relaxation and stress relief. Many people, women especially, smoke because they think it will help them control their weight. Many continue to smoke cigarettes not because they want to, but because they're addicted and are having trouble quitting. And still others, some perhaps like you, smoke because they feel pressure from their peers and are concerned that they won't be accepted if they say no; or, they say yes to something that is offered to them because they want to seem gracious.

Some things to keep in mind as you make your decision to smoke or not to smoke include:

  • Many people start smoking with the intention of just doing it once in a while. But, cigarettes contain nicotine, a highly addictive substance. Nicotine affects the brain in such a way that the brain sends messages saying, "Keep doing that!" It may also make you feel calm and relaxed, and it suppresses hunger pangs. These factors may make you want to continue to smoke and will make it increasingly difficult for you to stop.
  • The health risks associated with smoking certainly increase when the quantity and frequency of use goes up. The Alcohol, Nicotine, and Other Drugs archive explains the effects smoking has on your body. If you were really able to limit your smoking to one cigarette, once a week, the dangers would not be as serious as for a person smoking a pack a day. But this, as has been explained, is a tough thing to do.
  • Something else to consider is how much second-hand smoke you'll inhale while hanging out with your smoking peers. Studies have shown that non-smokers suffer the negative effects associated with lighting up when they breathe the air that smokers exhale.

While a number of varieties of cigarettes claim to contain less tar and/or less nicotine, these products still have the same addictive and health-related consequences as other cigarettes. There is no safe cigarette. You can look at Low tar and nicotine cigarette? for more information.

One last, but certainly not least, thought: you mentioned that your friends have been calling you a jerk when you choose not to smoke with them. You also emphasized the fact that you haven't TOUCHED a cigarette in your life. One way to handle peer pressure is to be clear about yourself and your responses. "No, thank you" is perfect to say and to leave it at that. You don't have to give reasons.

It's important for you to make decisions about your behavior that will make you feel good about yourself and coincide with what you think is important. If your friends don't treat you and your decisions with respect, it may be time to reconsider their friendship. Do you want to hang out with people who call you names and encourage you to do things that you don't want to do or may harm you? Many people who don't smoke, or, if they do, would support you in whatever decision you make, and maybe these people are worth cultivating as friends.

Alice

May 9, 2004

20635
Alice, I would please like to respond to the submittal entitled, Friends say, "Smoke!", with the inquiry by a fifteen-year-old being pressured to smoke cigarettes. You are obviously an...
Alice, I would please like to respond to the submittal entitled, Friends say, "Smoke!", with the inquiry by a fifteen-year-old being pressured to smoke cigarettes. You are obviously an intelligent person to have decided to research this decision prior to making it. I was very impressed by the way that Alice gave you the necessary information to make your own decision. Your inquiry caught my eye because you are a reflection of myself ten years ago. I am twenty-five-years-old and was faced with the decision to smoke cigarettes when I was fourteen. You've had people tell you not to smoke probably, and you've heard what Alice had to say regarding the risks and health issues involved. You've also heard what your smoking friends have to say. But I think I can give you something else to think about. In the eighth grade, I made the decision to smoke. All of my friends were doing it. And all of my friends were making fun of anyone who didn't. In an effort to achieve maturity and acceptance, I began to smoke. In the first few months, it was no big deal because I didn't even inhale. Then, it was once in a while. Then, it was just a few cigarettes a day. Then a pack every other day. Well, you get the point. By the time I reached high school, I was a full-time smoker all the way until I graduated college. I made my decision to quit, ironically, for similar reasons. I found myself surrounded by people who didn't smoke. I was an outcast and considered very unappealing. However, as time went on, I discovered what cigarettes had taken from me and this reassured my goal to quit and keep quitting. I took a trip with some friends and did some hiking in the mountains. Upon reaching some higher elevations, I finally found that my body had a limit. This was not discouraging until I realized I was the only one in the group feeling the effects. To make a long story short, the last hour of the hike was with the assistance of my friends. They had to carry my equipment and basically carry me because my lungs were no match for theirs. I couldn't breathe and even collapsed on one occasion. It has been a few years now without cigarettes, and I can still feel the effects of smoking when engaging in any form of activity. My point is to give you one other thing to think about in your decision... do you think you may regret your decision later? You have a lot of life left, and hopefully I do as well. I smoked for eight years, and I can honestly say that it didn't gain me anything but regret. The friends that convinced me to smoke are no longer in my life. And I'm glad, because the only friends I intend to have are those who carry me up the mountains. By experience, I can tell you that you'll be faced with an unimaginable amount of important decisions in the next ten years. For me, that was the biggest one. And I chose wrong. - Looking Back

May 9, 2004

20636
Dear Alice, I would like to respond to a past question titled, FRIENDS SAY, "SMOKE!" The individual is trying to deal with the fact that although he knows that smoking is unhealthy, his friends...
Dear Alice, I would like to respond to a past question titled, FRIENDS SAY, "SMOKE!" The individual is trying to deal with the fact that although he knows that smoking is unhealthy, his friends routinely call him a loser for not wanting to become a smoker. Well, Alice, I am an American living permanently in Finland, a country where frequent and heavy alcohol use/abuse is commonplace and regarded as "normal," despite the obvious concerns. I have been to numerous parties where there is a lot of pressure to drink, even though I generally do not like alcohol. I have been called a loser as well, and every time other people see that my glass is empty and I haven't asked for more, they say "this is wrong. When your glass is empty, you ask for more." In situations like that, I have developed this philosophy: "If these people thought I was normal, I'd worry about myself." Any true friend will respect your decision, especially when it is based on valid health concerns.

August 27, 1999

20327

Dear Alice,

This is a response to the fifteen-year-old whose friends wanted him to smoke. Please, please, please, do not do it. I grew up in a country where about 80 percent of men smoke...

Dear Alice,

This is a response to the fifteen-year-old whose friends wanted him to smoke. Please, please, please, do not do it. I grew up in a country where about 80 percent of men smoke. My dad started smoking at fifteen, to be like his friends. He tried to stop or cut back several times, but couldn't do it. Then, he got lung cancer and died when he was just fifty-six. During his last month, he was in terrible pain that couldn't be completely controlled with the best painkillers. Later I read some studies that showed that smoking for even a short period of time increases your risk of getting lung cancer or other complications in the future. I just want young people to hear this from someone who experienced the pain and the loss caused by a cigarette picked by a teenager. It's not worth it; please, say no to smoking.

Still Grieving