Smokers Not Calling Themselves "Smokers"

Smokers who used cigarettes not identifying with smoker label

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) If you smoke cigarettes, you're a smoker, case closed — right? Not so fast, say the authors of a new study exploring how people identify with the label "smoker."

This study looked at people in California who reported using cigarettes but did not consider themselves a smoker.

The researchers estimated that around 12 percent of smokers in the state fell into this category in 2011, perhaps calling for a shifted approach to anti-tobacco efforts.

"Ask your doctor for advice if struggling to quit smoking."

According to the authors of this study, who were led by Wael K. Al-Delaimy, MD, PhD, of the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at the University of California, San Diego, as the stigma of smoking grows, people who smoke might be less likely or willing to identify with being labeled a "smoker."

These "non-identifying smokers" might cause inaccurate data on smoking levels in the country, and the group might be overlooked in efforts to help people quit, explained Dr. Al-Delaimy and colleagues.

To explore the presence of non-identifying smokers, the researchers utilized data from the 2011 California Longitudinal Smokers Survey (CLSS) to identify 1,698 adults over the age of 18. The participants had all reported smoking at least 100 cigarettes during their life and at least once during the last 30 days, and said they currently smoked at least "some days."

Of these participants, 146 answered "no" when asked if they considered themselves a smoker. These participants were considered non-identifying smokers for this study.

Of the non-identifying smokers, 64.7 percent were young (under the age of 44), 65.8 percent were male and 46.9 percent were non-daily smokers who used to smoke every day. Of the group, 62.3 percent did not believe they were addicted to cigarettes.

Using this data and California population information, the researchers estimated that 395,928 non-identifying smokers were living in California in 2011 — 12.3 percent of all smokers in the state.

"There is a risk for such smokers to continue to smoke and be adversely impacted by the tobacco they smoke, yet they do not seek any assistance nor do they plan to quit because they falsely believe they are not smokers,” said Dr. Al-Delaimy in a UC San Diego news release.

The researchers suggested that future anti-smoking efforts, including media campaigns and public health policies, should take non-identifying smokers into account, and that healthcare providers should not rely on simply asking patients if they are a smoker.

This study focused on only one state and depended on self-reported smoking data. Further research is needed.

The study was published online February 5 in the journal Tobacco Control. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
February 12, 2014
Last Updated:
February 13, 2014