People use tobacco for different personal reasons. For some, the rituals surrounding smoking may serve as a bonding experience and an opportunity for communication with others. This is especially true among partners and friends who smoke.
In addition to these rituals, smoking over time can come to serve as a powerful way of communicating nonverbally. Cigarettes may have allowed you to express many feelings and emotions to those close to you, without even speaking.
Some common messages are:
“Let’s socialize.” Gathering together to smoke can provide opportunities to talk throughout the day.
“Let’s relax.” Smoking can be a cue that it’s time to stop working and take a break.
“I’m my own person.” or “I want to be left alone.” When someone else doesn’t approve of your smoking, you signal your independence when you smoke.
“Be aware that I’m upset.” Smoking can signal anger, anxiety, or depression.
“I’m not going to tell you how I feel.” Smoking may be a way to “stuff” feelings and may lead to feelings of resentment and isolation in a relationship.
“We’re alike.” Smoking may create a bond between people, especially if other people around you have negative attitudes toward smoking.
For some people it may be important to identify the messages you have sent with your smoking, and then plan new ways to communicate. What are some other ways you can still let the people in your life know how you feel? When quitting smoking go to becomeanex.org to see how you can get support from others.
Dr. Richard D. Hurt is an internationally recognized expert on tobacco dependence. A native of Murray, Kentucky, he joined Mayo Clinic in 1976 and is now a Professor of Medicine at its College of Medicine. In 1988, he founded the Mayo Clinic Nicotine Dependence Center and since then its staff has treated more than 50,000 patients for tobacco dependence. Send your questions directly to Dr. Hurt at AskTheExpert@becomeanex.org