“Only at parties” smokers: new survey of occasional smokers and a campaign to reach them

The flags are out in our bit of the woodland today after the announcement that the UK government is to follow Australia’s lead and introduce plain packaging for cigarettes this year and may also ban smoking in cars carrying children. A campaign just launched in Norway is concerned with another aspect of how to reduce the number of smokers, focusing on people who smoke occasionally. The feature in The Lancet on this initiative makes for interesting reading. I have to confess this is a group of smokers I hadn’t really thought about as a distinct group, but it seems that we should.

Firstly, guess what? There’s no safe lower limit for cigarette consumption.  It seems that different patterns of smoking are associated with different health risks and the sharpest increase in risk for cardiovascular disease is from no smoking to smoking just one to four cigarettes a day. Occassional smokers seems to be bucking the trend too, in that Norway has found that the number of occassional smokers has remained at 10 -11% of the population while the prevalence of daily cigarette smoking has halved over the past fifteen years (now 16%). Also, the use of snus (a smokeless tobacco product to chew) in addition to cigarettes is more common amongst Norwegian occasional smokers than those who smoke every day.

Before launching the ‘Smoking – non-smoking’ campaign in January this year, the Norwegian Directorate of Health did a survey of 2000 people, of whom 204 were occasional smokers, and they will repeat this after it. The results tie in with other surveys of occasional smokers. Here’s what they found:

  • occasional smokers are younger than daily smokers and their level of educational attainment is more like that of non-smokers
  • a third did not believe their smoking was bad for their health
  • patterns of smoking varied with more than 1 in 4 smoking 10 or more cigarettes a week; they smoke more often at weekends and with others rather than alone
  • 1 in 5 planned to quit within a month
  • 3 in 4 believed themselves not to be dependent on nicotine

Norway has a strong record on tobacco control policies and this campaign comes in at the start of a new anti-tobacco strategy which is due to run from now until 2016. Astrid Nylenna, from the Department of Primary Prevention in Oslo, makes the point that as even stronger anti-tobacco policies come into force there may be an increase in occasional smoking. The campaing runs for seven weeks on tv, radio and digital channels and a free smartphone app is being promoted, designed to help people quit both cigarettes and snus. It will be interesting to see what the repeat survey finds, but I can only agree that with occasional smokers making up an increasing proporton of all smokers, more should be done to target this group and help them quit.


Nylenna A. Occasional smoking: a new campaign target in Norway. The Lancet, Volume 381, Issue 9868,  Pages 708 – 709, 2 March 2013 doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(13)60249-4

You can see a video of the campaign here http://vimeo.com/56078215

Government to legislate for plain cigarette packaging this year. The Guardian 5th March 2013.