Recently, salon.com published an article about a new trend among Millennials dubbed “social smoking.” Now, more than ever, college students are beginning to smoke without defining themselves as smokers, but instead justifying it as something they only do when they drink or engage in social situations. This practice has grown recently, profiting from technology such as e-cigarettes, and its reasoning makes it easier for many to explain their smoking behavior as not overly damaging to their health in the long term. This trend is also interesting in that it marks a very substantial change: these young people are the largest participating demographic of smokers.
Overall, this trend is fairly easy to trace but difficult to fully explain as a social phenomenon. The majority of these young smokers consume a relatively small number of cigarettes compared to the average smoker. This practice is generally limited, especially among college students, to a few times a week and generally not every day. This leads to questioning the terms of what it means to be a smoker. Among this millennial population, the majority regardless of their consumption or dependency would not classify themselves as smokers, but rather claim that smoking is simply an activity they partake in when the situation warrants it. Such is the nature of “social smoking.”
So how real is this phenomenon of “social smoking,” and what are its implications as a designation in the millennial social environment? It seems that the most basic definition of a smoker would be one who consumes cigarettes, but if the individual has no real dependency on the substance and their consumption is intermittent or wholly situational, then perhaps the label is somewhat misguided. The designation becomes even more difficult when you take into account smoking apparatuses like e-cigs, of which the health risks are somewhat less extreme. I don’t argue that the idea of social smoking exists or that it is significantly less damaging than consistent smoking, but to discount it entirely as a safe or positive movement is to ignore its greater ideological implications and social impacts.
Whether or not those who are beginning to smoke now are becoming addicted to cigarettes, the movement is dangerous in the attitude that it fosters toward smoking in general. Cigarettes carry an extreme health risk, as everyone of course knows. Your doctor will tell you, your grandpa will tell you and even the pack that the cigarettes come in will tell you that. It is not a secret to anyone. With this in mind, those who choose to start now are doing so with the knowledge that it is damaging, so there are likely few witless victims at this point, seduced by the allure of smoking but ignorant of the intrinsic damage of the practice. At this level, there is nothing wrong with taking up the practice as an individual, but as a social movement it appears fairly negative.
So much has been done in the last century to make smoking more difficult. Places where it is allowed are limited, the cigarettes themselves are heavily taxed and overpriced and there is enough of a social stigma that smoking publicly is likely to garner a few judgmental glances. It seems likely that those who are beginning now are doing it as a countercultural move – as a reaction to what is expected as conventional.
While the opportunity for individuals to decide their own behaviors is extremely important, it is also important to consider the long term ramifications of behavior. A couple cigarettes may not be damaging, but smoking can very easily become a habit difficult to break, especially in the busy, tumultuous years immediately after college.
Conlan Campbell ’18 email@example.com is from Burnsville, Minn. His major is undecided.
Graphic Credit: LOUISA CARROLL/MANITOU MESSENGER