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Smoking and Tobacco

Quit smoking and start it again

01/17/2008

Question:

My boyfriend quit smoking 6 months ago and he wants to start again. He says he would not smoke more than 3 per day and says he will smoke only during winter. I can trust him to keep his word. But I am very concerned about his health.

Is smoking 3 cigarettes per day as harmful as smoking 20? Where do we draw the line? If it does not become a habit, is it okay to smoke? And what would be the effects of smoking 6 months, stop 6 months again smoke 6 months and so on?

He says its fine as long as it is within limits and quotes the stress at work as a reason to smoke. Is this fine? I am definitely scared and would like to know all about it.

Thank you very much.

Answer:

"The check is in the mail."

"Of course, I'll still love you in the morning."

"She's just a friend."

"I'm just going to smoke a few when I'm stressed."

These are absolutely classic lines, and your boyfriend is telling one to both you and himself. It is the addict in him speaking; that part of his brain that has been hammered by 70,000 free-base hits a year of nicotine, and won't shut up.

Nicotine is a powerful change agent for the brain and it takes years to undo those stress-reaction patterns. Keep in mind that 95% of smokers who quit will be back smoking at their previous level at the end of a year. If he were a former heroin addict and he just said he wanted shoot up a couple times on weekends, what would you say?

As to the risk of three cigarettes per day versus twenty, I think the point is moot because it won't stay that way, but yes it's less risky: like jumping off a thirty foot cliff is less risky than jumping off a two hundred foot cliff.

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Response by:

Rob  Crane, MD Rob Crane, MD
Clinical Associate Professor of Family Medicine
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University