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An inconvenient truth – many smokers actually enjoy smoking!

I've spent half my working life arguing that many smokers enjoy smoking.

Increasingly I've been made to feel a bit of a Luddite, even at tobacco conferences where all the talk is about harm reduction and non-combustible products like e-cigarettes.

A typical speech on behalf of Forest to a tobacco industry audience would conclude:

Embrace developing trends and products but don’t forget your core customers, millions of whom enjoy smoking and have no wish to quit. They, and we, need your support.

I've repeated the same message ("millions of people enjoy smoking") countless times on television and radio.

Needless to say I'm often interrupted by presenters and tobacco control campaigners who refuse to accept the bleedin' obvious.

As far as they're concerned all smokers are "addicts" and most wish they'd never started.

Today therefore I feel slightly vindicated.

Published on the Nicotine Science and Policy website, The Enjoyment of Smoking begins:

When it comes to policies aimed at reducing the harm of smoking there is a truth that daren’t be spoken, namely that many smokers actually enjoy smoking. In the current climate of tobacco control policies aiming for a tobacco free world, the realization that many people want to continue to engage in a behaviour that they know to be harmful is hard to acknowledge.

Author Neil McKeganey then continues:

In research looking at the reasons why smokers are not interested in trying an e-cigarette, despite knowing that these devices are much less harmful than combusted tobacco, one of the most powerful reasons cited was the fact that the person actually enjoyed smoking. Hard as it might be to acknowledge that many smokers actually enjoy smoking that realization may explain why more than a third of smokers in Great Britain have not even tried an e-cigarette, despite their being a substantially less harmful than smoking, and nearly seven in ten of those that have tried e-cigarettes do not go on to use the devices long term (ONS 2015)

To put this in perspective, Professor Neil McKeganey is director of the Centre for Substance Use Research, formerly the Centre for Drug Misuse Research.

You may remember the name. In December last year Neil's colleague Dr Christopher Russell invited friends and supporters of Forest to complete an online survey, Smoking and Electronic Cigarettes.

I believe several hundred people responded but, like all surveys, the questions didn't please everyone. Some thought they were biased in favour of e-cigarettes and there were several comments to that effect on the Friends of Forest Facebook page.

I was rather more relaxed because, having met Christopher and Neil at various conferences around the world, I know their abilities and the esteem in which their work is held.

I know too from a conversation I had with Neil that the 'enjoyment of smoking' issue is based on genuine responses from a significant number of smokers.

Apart from the bold statement that "many smokers actually enjoy smoking" his article includes a further radical thought:

It is not only the public health doctors that may be discomforted by the recognition that many smokers enjoy smoking. Ironically the tobacco industry itself may struggle with that realization. The biggest hitters in the tobacco industry have come out in favour of electronic nicotine delivery systems. Within a new fangled world of tobacco heating systems and e-cigarettes, lighting up a combustible stick of leaf tobacco can seem frankly out of date.

The tobacco companies that are investing heavily in the new technology have wisely (as far as their shareholders are concerned) refused to identify a date when they will have moved out of the smoked tobacco business. Their hesitancy in that regard may be justified given that so many of their current customers are saying they actually enjoy smoking.

'The Enjoyment of Smoking' is essential reading therefore not just for tobacco control campaigners but for all tobacco stakeholders.

Having banged this drum for many years it's a relief to know that a well-regarded researcher has, quite independently, come to the same conclusion as me.

Prof McKeganey is right too when he says the harm reduction battle will only be won when a product is developed "that is not only associated with lower harm than smoked cigarettes but is just as appealing and just as pleasurable to smokers."

Don't get me wrong. E-cigarettes are a superb invention but they don't appeal to every smoker – not by a long shot – for one very good reason.

Even with the well known health risks there are millions of people who still find smoking far more enjoyable. It's as simple as that.

The Enjoyment of Smoking by Neil McKegney (NSP).

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Reader Comments (8)

Yes, many smokers do indeed enjoy smoking. Beyond that, there is ample evidence that the "well known" health risks associated with smoking are extremely exaggerated. The question should be where do the anti-smokers and health zealots get the right to coerce smokers to quit or accept so-called harm reduction. I not only enjoy smoking, I enjoy the liberty to choose!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016 at 19:43 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

Finally!!! I took part in the survey, and because I took part I did try vaping. No, it's just not for me because I do enjoy smoking. Is it a habit? Maybe. Is it addiction? Maybe. But wether or not it's a habit or addiction is irrelevant. I really enjoy cigarettes and I do not intend to give them up. Harmful? Maybe. But you're right, there has been so much bullshit, misinformation and blatant lies told, especially regarding second hand smoke, I now believe non of it. I have to die of something anyway. I've lost more friends, who were non smokers, to breast cancer than I've lost smoking friends to lung cancer.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016 at 0:06 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Lodge

Antismokers tell us that people only smoke because they are ‘addicted to nicotine’, and that most smokers actually want to quit...but most smokers enjoy smoking, and few people want to quit something they enjoy. Nag and frighten them enough though, and you can certainly get them to believe that they should.
‘Addiction’ is not a clearly-defined scientific term, and it’s very hard to separate ‘addictions’ from habits.
Antismokers have to keep pushing ‘addiction’ since they either cannot believe, or cannot admit, that people not only freely choose to smoke... but enjoy it. ‘Addiction’ also works to further stigmatise smokers by portraying us as contemptible junkies. Of course, if you’re smoking out of pure compulsion and aren’t even enjoying it, I would say you might as well quit. After all, if you’re going to do something which increasingly gets you treated like dirt, then you may as well at least get some pleasure from it. But many thousands have quit of their own accord, and many others are smoking moderately, or only at certain times, or switching to e-cigs. I meet these people all the time, but according to antismokers they don’t exist. I personally only smoke when I’m having a drink. Perhaps I don’t exist either.
Joe Jackson

Wednesday, September 7, 2016 at 18:52 | Unregistered CommenterDave Copeland

Joe, no, I met you after a concert a few years ago. You definitely exist! :>

I thought this might make for an interesting addition to the main article here. Back in 1985 a freelance reporter named Sandra Blakeslee wrote the first of two articles that established the whole "Nicotine is more addictive than Heroin!" meme. The first was in a 1985 Chicago Tribune and the second was in a 1987 NY Times

In that first article Blakeslee features a VERY interesting figure from the American Cancer Society -- i.e. that "87.5% of regular smokers report that they find smoking enjoyable." That was back in the day when it was still OK for a smoker to simply say, "Look, I enjoy it, I've got no plans to quit." Of course today the statement, with antismoking help, has mutated to "Look, I hate that I smoke but I can't quit because I'm ADDICTED!"

The second statement is an "adjusted" one, adjusted by societal pressures. The first statement is far more likely the honest one.


Wednesday, September 7, 2016 at 20:54 | Unregistered CommenterMichael J. McFadden

I go through this discussion with the nurse every time I have a medical.

They ask me how many I smoke a day. I tell them that I'm a purely recreational smoker, which doesn't fit in any of their checkboxes. I might go 3-6 months without smoking anything at all, then I may smoke 12 cigars or bowls of pipe tobacco over a single weekend. I do so because I enjoy it. Do I want to quit? No. And I'm not really sure there is anything to 'quit' given that the 'habit' is so irregular as to not be a habit.

They put me down in the lowest 'light smoker' box then tell me I should try to give up and send me follow-up information. Every time.

Thursday, September 8, 2016 at 12:01 | Unregistered CommenterBen Viveur

I have been saying to all medics for MANY years - I ENJOY SMOKING !!!! But do they listen ? I don't think so !!!

Thursday, September 8, 2016 at 14:00 | Unregistered CommenterGraham Anthony

I enjoy smoking, but I loathe politicians who plain package and cover up a product I use. If politicians don't like it, I couldn't care less. Paying politicians is a waste of tax, so is the public health lobby also paid from tax.

Thursday, September 8, 2016 at 18:50 | Unregistered Commentergray

I just wanted to note a correction to my comment of Sept. 7th, 2016: I characterized Sandra Blakeslee as being simply a "freelance reporter." In doing some more in-depth research this evening I discovered that she actually has been a full-fledged science writer for the NY Times since the late 1960s, actually a much more prestigious position than I earlier thought she'd held, and the correction is worth noting.


Thursday, June 6, 2019 at 4:22 | Unregistered CommenterMichael J. McFadden

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