People smoke for enjoyment

The results of a survey of more than 600 smokers published yesterday by the Centre for Substance Use Research in Glasgow indicate that 95 percent gave pleasure as their primary reason for smoking, with 35 percent suggesting that smoking was part of their identity.

The Pleasure of Smoking: The Views of Confirmed Smokers was funded by the UK smokers’ group, Forest. Smokers participating in the study, who were said to include many subscribers to Forest’s e-newsletter, were aged between 18 and 88 years of age. 

Sixty-two percent of participants liked the physical effect of nicotine, 55 percent liked the way smoking provided “time for oneself”, 52 percent liked the taste or smell of tobacco, and 49 percent liked the ritual involved in smoking.

Seventy-seven percent expected to smoke for many years with only five percent envisaging a time in the near future when they might have stopped.

Although 56 percent 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 percent cited the financial cost while 54 percent 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.

Ninety-one percent of respondents felt they were treated unfairly by the government. Only four percent felt they were treated fairly.

Fifty-nine percent had used alternative nicotine delivery products such as electronic cigarettes, but few had been persuaded to switch permanently from combustible cigarettes to electronic 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 electronic cigarettes could be used in places where smoking was prohibited.

“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,” said Dr. Neil McKeganey, director of the Centre for Substance Use Research. “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 (pictured), the director of Forest said the health risks of smoking were well known yet many people chose to smoke because they enjoyed it, not because they were addicted. “Government must respect that choice and stop bullying smokers to quit,” he said. “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.”