How to smoke cigarettes without getting hooked:

First, the obligatory disclaimer - Smoking kills. If you end up dying of a horrible body-and-soul-consuming disease in 40 years, don't come whining to me. We all know the risks of smoking, and if you do so, you make a choice to do it.

Okay, conscience-placating time over. On to the fun:

We all have a friend who somehow manages to smoke every now and then, and has done so seemingly forever, yet doesn't ever "need" a cigarette. Did you ever wonder how they can do this, despite all the bad press we constantly hear about the addictiveness of cigarettes?

Now, some people will read this and think, "Why would I want to smoke?". Numerous other writeups exist to provide reasons to smoke (as linked in the previous sentence). I will mention only the one that does it for me - Nicotine acts as a very effective mental stimulant, great for helping you study, for conversation, or just for a quick pick-me-up.

Others will point out that, despite the benefits, smoking has proven negative consequences on one's health. Plenty of other nodes (again, click any link from the previous sentence) mention that as well, so I'll only give a quick comment on this. Though not actually good for you, virtually all of the research on smoking's health effects deals with high-volume smoking. Based on a metastudy by Peter N. Lee, smoking under ten cigarettes per day had a median risk factor of 3.72. Not all that high, and includes folks who smoke quite a lot more than what I would call "casual".

So, read on learn the secret to occasional smoking.

First, if you've never smoked, go read a few of the tutorials on how to smoke correctly, such as Advice to new smokers or How to be a polite smoker in a non-smoking world. I'll admit, when I tried my first few cigarettes, I completely screwed it up. I remember a friend pointing out my biggest error (not inhaling) - The next drag I took, I inhaled. I didn't cough. I didn't choke. I just slowly sat down, realizing that in a few moments I would lack the ability to stand. Yes, it felt that intense. Only lasted for a few minutes, but WOW does your first cigarette ever feel great!

The real secret to smoking without getting hooked lies in when you smoke. It doesn't so much matter how much you smoke, although keep in mind that more than one or two a day for over a month will result in some degree of physical addiction. As most smokers will tell you, though, the biggest problem in quitting involves the psychological addiction. Thus:

Rule #1 - Do not smoke at any regular interval, time, or place, or while doing any particular activity. Doing so will cause you to begin associating that interval/time/place/activity with smoking. This results in you wanting, and eventually "needing", a cigarette based on that association. For example, if you regularly have a smoke during your lunch-break at work, eventually you will start doing so not because you just want to, but out of habit.

A number of people, with just enough knowledge of psychology to allow them to run around babbling nonsense, may (correctly) point out that an irregular reward schedule leads to learning a behavior (aka conditioning, which in this case basically means addiction) faster than any other known method of behavior modification. The classic examples of this include gambling and belief in superstitions. This holds true, but does not apply to casual smoking, for one simple reason - You do the smoking itself at more-or-less random times. Every time you choose to smoke, however, you get the reward. So while you could still fairly call that classical conditioning, following rule #1 will minimize its effects by reducing consistently paired stimuli.

Rule #2 - Do not smoke more than two cigarettes per day for longer than two weeks. I made this mistake once, during a particularly grueling semester in college. While you can fairly easily overcome a (mild) purely physical addiction by simple abstinence, I would describe it as "very unpleasant", to say the least, for the first three days. You do not want to experience withdrawal symptoms. Which brings us to:

Rule #3 - If you find the number of cigarettes you smoke slowly increasing, immediately quit smoking for at least a few weeks. Failure to rigidly adhere to rule #3 presents you with the quickest and easiest path to a real addiction to cigarettes. Conversely, if you follow this rule without exception, particularly in combination with rule #2, you have a very good chance of never needing to go through the hell of withdrawal.

To help you follow rule #3, I recommend picking an upper limit for yourself, such as "10 per week, 3 per day". That doesn't mean you should actually smoke that much regularly - Just limit yourself to that, and if you find yourself either frequently wanting to bend the rules, or always waiting anxiously for a new week so you can have your next cigarette, consider it time to quit for a while.

Rule #4 - Hygiene. After smoking, wash your hands and rinse out your mouth (I usually gargle a bit). Aside from the simple fact that stale smoke on you smells disgusting (though more to others than to yourself), the lingering smell will keep the thought of your next cigarette in your mind. Additionally, as a sub-rule to #4, never smoke in any enclosed places, such as your car or house. It takes quite a lot more work to wash those free of the smell than to wash yourself.

Rule #5 - Do not date or marry a regular smoker. Even if you think you can resist the temptation of having a constant reminder of cigarettes, consider the risk of just a few weeks of weakness. Also, if you date another casual smoker, avoid smoking together except for rare occasions when everyone around you smokes as well, such as at a club or concert. I can't even count the number of people who've complained that they could quit smoking, and have no problem just giving it up, but every time their significant other lights up, it takes an act of god-like will to resist following suit.

So, if you adhere to this guide to casual smoking, you may well enjoy a lifetime (only slightly reduced in length, if at all) of smoking, without all the normal negative consequences smoking carries.

Enjoy your cake.

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