That Saturday night cheeky ciggie is not nearly as harmless as you think.

The belief that you can be a healthy smoker is a myth, according to a major study originally titled “Myth of the Healthy Smoker.” This study highlights just how damaging smoking in any way, shape or form can be in otherwise healthy people.

Even if you eat heathily.

Even if you exercise every day.

Even if you take your vitamins.

Even if you are Paleo, Vegan, Raw Food, 5:2 and the rest.

However a new generation of so-called social smokers are alarming medical professionals. Young people know smoking isn’t good for them however they are managing to convince themselves irregular smoking won’t do any harm.

And the main reason given for their decision to have the occasional cigarette?

“To fit in with social groups.”

You may not be able to smoke anymore but at least you can comfort yourself with carbs, which super-fit Michelle Bridges confessed she and “Commando” Steve occasionally do.

Researchers say there are three types of social smokers:

  1. Those who smoke only when out with friends;
  2. Those who smoke irregularly on various occasions;
  3. Binge smokers who can go for weeks without but then burn through a whole pack in one night.

The study found that social smokers don’t realise how much harm they are doing to their bodies because regular medical tests don’t measure its effects. General medical check ups such as blood sugar, blood pressure and a respiratory test called spirometry – a measure of how much air you can inhale and how quickly you can exhale – don’t show just how damaging social smoking can be.

Even smoking but NOT inhaling is deemed harmful.

'There's no such thing as a healthy smoker.' Image: Ab Fab, BBC

Social smokers can still show symptoms of the adverse effects of smoking, often in the form of chronic coughing, sputum production, decreased breathing quality, lower energy levels and an increased risk of serious infection.

The I Can Quit website, has gone a further step to explain why social smokers seem to think they've "dodged a bullet" buy not being regular smokers, explaining that:

  • Infrequent smoking can still increase your risk of suffering from heart disease or lung cancer;
  • Social smokers are more stressed than non-smokers;
  • Social smokers experience more coughing and shortness of breath;
  • Smoking but not inhaling can still contribute to heart attacks;
  • Social smokers often underestimate how often they smoke and can actually be classed as low-level smokers.

Researchers who released the paper "Myth of the Healthy Smoker" say the effects of smoking can still be detected, even after a person has quit, and it can take years to restore health  - but it is possible.

“Smoking is really taking a terrible toll on our society," says researcher Dr. Elizabeth A. Regan, a clinical researcher at National Jewish Health in Denver and lead author of the paper, published last year in JAMA Internal Medicine.

'Exercising can only reverse the effects of smoking once smoking has ceased for good.' Image: Ab Fab, BBC

“We live happily in the world thinking that only a small percentage of people who smoke get this devastating disease," Dr. Regan told New York Times.  She says “a lot of smokers have respiratory symptoms. They get sick often, are more likely to be hospitalized with bronchitis or pneumonia, and have evidence on CT scans of thickened airway walls or emphysema that impair breathing.”

Exercises recommended for former smokers (YOU CAN DO IT! QUIT TODAY!) include:

Walking as fast as you can for as long as you can;

Walking some more after a short rest;

Using a treadmill and increasing speed and inclination.

Other exercises that can measure improvements in performance. Finally, a reason to buy a FitBit, which by the way could be partially covered by private health insurers if you can prove it is for treatment of smoking related issues.

It seems logical that if the biggest influencer on social smoking is social groups, then the best way to quit is to do it together, even if you have to use e-cigarettes for a while, even if you feel silly do it.

You're still being social.

If you or someone you know needs help quitting smoking call the Quitline on 137848 or visit