ROBIN WARSHAW

Writer | Ghostwriter

Are You Really Not a Smoker?

February 15, 2014

Tags: smoking, anti-smoking campaign, quitting tobacco, nonsmoker

It's easy to identify smokers, huddled in little outcast knots in office parking lots or near entrances to shopping centers or restaurants. Doctors also have an easy way to find out if you're a smoker: with a yes-no check off box on the standard form you complete when you arrive for many medical appointments.

So you either are, or are not, a smoker. It's simple.

Unless, like almost 400,000 Californians in a recent study, you smoke but don't consider yourself a smoker.

That makes you a "non-identifying smoker" or NIS a status that can pose the same health risks as being an identified smoker but without the benefit of medical monitoring or support for quitting.

People categorized as NIS have smoked at least 100 cigarettes in their lifetimes, at least one day in the past 30 or said they smoked at least "some days." The study shows the NIS population is much larger than public health experts once thought. In California, about 12 percent of smokers are NIS.

Young NIS individuals often see smoking as part of their social life, like drinking, and are convinced they have no nicotine addiction. Those over 45 and NIS may be former regular smokers who failed to quit permanently but learned to shield themselves from societal and medical disapproval.

Because they believe they are not smokers, NIS people do not seek help or plan to quit the hidden habit that endangers their health.

Do you know someone who is a NIS? Are you? What messages or educational campaigns could awaken awareness?