These are "social smokers"and there are more of them than you might think.
Smoking is often characterized as an all-or-nothing activityon doctor’s office questionnaires it’s usually a yes-or-no question, for instancebut by some estimates, anywhere from one-fifth to one-third of adults who smoke don’t light up every day. While some of these so-called nondaily smokers smoke regularly but sparingly, up to 30% likely fall into the social-smoker category.
Hard numbers are difficult to come by, in part because the definition of a social smoker is so vague. A 2007 study of social smoking among college studentsone of very few that have been published on the subjectfound the term was used "loosely and inconsistently," even among researchers. But most people know a social smoker when they see one. They smoke occasionally, almost always in groups, and more often than not while drinking alcohol. By definition, they do not consider themselves addicted to nicotine. Many started smoking casually in high school or college but never graduated to a daily habit.
"If I’m out drinking, or hanging out with people who are smoking, then I usually get the urge to smoke," says Vickie, 45, from New York City. "But I might smoke Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and then not smoke for a week."
Vickie’s friend Katherine, 46, has smoked intermittently since her college days, but she limits it to specific times and places. "I don’t think I’ve ever had a cigarette before 7 p.m.," she says. "I have smoked alone, but very, very rarely, and I don’t think I’ve bought a pack in 20 years. I know that I could put it down at any time." Though she sometimes goes for months without smoking, she may smoke a whole pack in a weekend if some old friends are in town or if she’s on vacation. "Smoking is a small indulgence that I sometimes do," says Katherine, "sort of like eating too much ice cream."