More than a harmless social habit

(Photo by Nick Lachance)
(Photo by Nick Lachance)

When Anthony Simmons, a fourth-year student from York University, smoked his first cigarette, it wasn’t because of peer pressure or that he was trying to impress his girlfriend.

He was in the grade 12 and at a party when he decided to inhale. Having friends at the party who were smoking, he wanted to try it as a “one-time thing”. Little did he know, lighting that cigarette would be the start of a serious addiction.

“Every party I went to, all of my friends were smoking and it just looked like they did it at parties, so I didn’t think it was a big deal if I did it,” Simmons explained.

“I was stupid. I underestimated how addictive cigarettes could be and I started smoking when I wasn’t at parties with my buddies. I don’t think it was worth smoking socially in the first place.”

Simmons is not alone. Many students and young people fall into the trap of getting into a routine of social smoking. Soon enough, they slowly become addicted as it extends from partying and becomes part of their lifestyle.

Marilyn Nieboer, a health education nurse at Wilfrid Laurier University who oversees the Leave the Pack Behind program said this is inevitable for social smokers.

“Cigarettes contain nicotine, a highly addictive substance. It can be more addictive than drugs such as cocaine, the receptors in our brain are very turned on by nicotine and it gives a sort of rush for the brain,” Nieboer explained.

“It provides an alertness and an energy boast and when you do that on Saturday nights with your friends while partying with the pack, it kind of feels good so the next time you’re stressed out when you’re studying for exams you’ll have a few cigarettes. The next thing you’ll know you’re using them daily and then
quitting becomes difficult.”

The addictive properties in cigarettes are often forgotten when students first light up due to their easy accessibility. Once someone is of age, it is easy to walk into a store that carries cigarettes and purchase them.

Nieboer also mentioned that every campus in Ontario has a Leave the Pack Behind program. These programs offer tips and advice for people who wish to quit smoking. The program also helps social smokers break their habits to prevent them from turning into a life-long addict.

“It’s very dificult. Most of us smoke outside, so when you’re at a party don’t go outside. That’s more of a behavioural change,” Nieboer advised.

“I there is one certain buddy that’s always passing a smoke to you, try to not be around them when you know that there will be a temptation. It’s all about temptation and finding the will power to get yourself past that. Keep your mind and focus on what your end goal is.”

Simmons admits that he still struggles with his desire to quit smoking because he does not have the motivation to quit. Simmons might say that he is addicted.

“I have been smoking for three years now. I don’t just wait around for a friend to have a party at his place to light up,” Simmons admitted.

“After I have breakfast, I’ll have a smoke and then I’ll go about my day. In between, I kind of lose count of all the cigarettes I have through-out the day. I’ve tried to quit, but it’s hard.”

Nieboer can back up Simmons’ claims of the difficulties with quitting. Cigarettes are like every other drug. When an individual tries to quit any kind of an addictive drug, there is always a period of withdrawal.

“The chemicals in our brain are used to have that kind of rush and then when we stop doing it, there’s a kind of withdrawal from that charge and they get irritable and have insomnia,” Nieboer explained.

However, there are success stories. Ashley Berger, a third-year student from the University of Western Ontario, had promised herself that she would only smoke at parties, but she soon found that she was becoming addicted to cigarettes outside of social gatherings. Fearing long-term health effects, Berger sought help.

“I went to the health services at my school and they gave me Nicoderm gum and the patch for free,” Berger said.

“I didn’t know that schools did that, but they practically saved my life! Whenever I went to parties and I saw some friends smoking, I would have some gum and it helped.”

Though she admits that she had suffered from from migraines and insomnia, Berger also changed her behaviours at parties to avoid the temptation of smoking again.

“I won’t hang with the friends that like to smoke at parties,” Berger shared.

“They’re some of my closest friends. It sucks having to avoid them at those kinds of events, but this is my choice. I don’t want to smoke and I don’t think it’s a good idea to smoke socially either.”

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