Many people call themselves “light” or “social” smokers. They intend to imply that their smoking habits are very moderate and so they are at very little risk of smoking-related illnesses compared to regular smokers. While there's some truth to the idea that the risks associated with smoking increase significantly the longer and more intensely a person consumes cigarettes, being a “light” smoker is by no means a complete or effective way to smoke “safely.”
The CDC has said many times that nicotine has the same addictive potential as heroin, one of the most powerful and feared opiates in the world. Studies have shown that nicotine addiction is progressive, as opposed to heroin addiction, which some contend can be addicting after the first use. But the strongest predictor for nicotine a smoking is having smoked a cigarette. In other words, your odds of becoming addicted to cigarettes increased infinitely when you try your first one.
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Even more relevant, occasional and social smokers begin the process of acclimating their bodies to the chemicals in cigarettes. Combined with the obviously positive social factors that smokers like this experience, this slow exposure and development of the enjoyment of nicotine are very likely to lead to heavier smoking according to experts. This is one of the biggest problems with self-proclaimed “light” smokers. Those who don't have an appropriate fear of the addictive power of nicotine may not realize they are slipping into more consistent consumption patterns until they are fully and truly addicted to the substance. Flirting with one of the most addictive substances available is a very risky endeavor.
Of course, there are those who argue that this risk is not that significant because smoking is easy to quit. Specifically, the tobacco company Philip Morris made the statement through its CEO that “it is not that hard to quit.” The CEO based the statement on the fact that there are more former smokers than smokers in the United States. Others, healthcare professionals especially, claim that cigarette smoking may be more difficult to quit than crack, cocaine, and meth. So while there are significant resources available to help quit smoking, usage and quitting success rates suggest it is not easy to quit.
And that's the inherent problem with the idea of the “light” smoker. While their claims that they don't smoker very often at all might be factually accurate and represent their current behavior, they obfuscate the real problem with cigarettes; they are simultaneously very habit-forming and very dangerous.