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The Pleasure of Smoking: Views of Confirmed Smokers

Tue 27th December, 2016

The overwhelming majority of confirmed smokers say they light up because they enjoy smoking not because they are addicted, a new study has found.

A survey of over 600 smokers by the Centre for Substance Use Research in Glasgow found that nearly all respondents (95%) gave pleasure as their primary reason for smoking, with 35% suggesting that smoking was part of their identity.

Well over half (62%) liked the physical effect of nicotine, 55% liked the way smoking provided “time for oneself”, 52% liked the taste or smell of tobacco, and 49% liked the ritual involved in smoking.

Most of those surveyed (77%) expected to smoke for many years with only 5% envisaging a time in the near future when they might have stopped.

Although a majority (56%) felt that they were addicted to smoking, many described the habit as a personal choice rather than behaviour determined by their dependence on nicotine.

Asked what they liked least about smoking, 73% cited the financial cost while 54% objected to the stigma that is now directed towards smokers.

Asked what might prompt them to stop smoking in future, the most common reasons were becoming seriously unwell as a result of smoking or exacerbating an illness through smoking.

Anti-smoking policies such as smoking bans and plain packaging were not cited by any respondents as reasons to quit smoking.

Significantly nine out of ten respondents (91%) felt they were treated unfairly by government. Only 4% felt they were treated fairly.

More than half the respondents (59%) had used alternative nicotine delivery products such as e-cigarettes. Few however were persuaded to switch permanently from combustible cigarettes to e-cigarettes.

The most common criticism of vaping was that it was “not the same” as smoking. Respondents commented that they missed the “smoke” and the “aroma” of combusted tobacco when they vaped. Some said they felt vaping was a “colder”, less social and more individualistic activity.

The second most commonly expressed criticism of vaping concerned perceived deficiencies in the technology, chief of which were complaints that the technology was “fiddly” and the batteries were often unreliable or required attention to ensure they were charged sufficiently.

The most positive aspect of vaping cited by respondents was the fact that e-cigarettes could be used in places where smoking was prohibited.

Dr Neil McKeganey, director of the Centre for Substance Use Research, said:

“This research has provided considerable detailed information on the way in which smoking is viewed by a group of confirmed smokers, a body whose opinions are rarely articulated or taken into account by government or tobacco control groups.

“The implications of these findings from a smoking cessation perspective are significant because there is a clear gulf between the way smoking is typically viewed as a negative, somewhat reprehensible, behaviour and how the smokers themselves saw smoking as a source of pleasure, a choice rather than an addiction.

“It suggests that the success of initiatives to encourage confirmed smokers to move away entirely from combustible tobacco products will depend to a large extent on the degree to which the alternative harm reduction products approximate the smoking experience in terms of enjoyment.”

Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest which funded the study, said:

“The health risks of smoking are very well known yet many people choose to smoke because they enjoy it, not because they are addicted. Government must respect that choice and stop bullying smokers to quit.

“What this research tells us is that confirmed smokers are unlikely to stop until there are alternative products that offer the same level of enjoyment as traditional cigarettes. That’s what politicians should focus on and support. Instead governments are introducing plain packaging and other measures that wilfully ignore the reasons many people smoke.”

The Pleasure of Smoking: The Views of Confirmed Smokers is published on Tuesday 27th December by the Centre for Substance Use Research. 

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