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I’m a social smoker and please don’t try to change me

In Hollywood, the bad girls always smoke. People smoke after having sex. Rock stars smoke, as do beautiful, naughty British boys. Smoking looks sexy, a cloud of white rolling out between parted lips. Smoking spells trouble, like the lipstick-wearing woman in a noir film — and what woman doesn’t want to be trouble?

OK, reality check. I know smoking is really bad for you. It’s so bad they put warnings on the outsides of boxes. There are ad campaigns about how bad smoking is for your health. Smoking can definitely kill you.

But I’ve been a cigarette bummer since seventh grade. I’ve never smoked a pack a day. It’s weird if I go through a pack a month. Weirder still: if there’s actually a pack of smokes in my home.

People in college knew to just pull out a cigarette when they saw me coming. (I’m not proud of this, but shoot me; I was poor.) I actually made friends bumming cigarettes.

More: Quitting smoking may not have saved me from lung disease after all

I define a “social smoker” as the person who has several beers and only then wants a cigarette. Social smokers are the ones who have the occasional puff with a co-worker after a bad day at the office. We’re not addicted, but dang, do we love our nicotine treats.

Is the occasional cigarette still bad for your health? Yes. But so is that third martini. So are potato chips. So is watching too much reality TV. I don’t mean to make a joke of lung cancer, but hear me out.

When I was in college, as I mentioned, I made friends by bumming cigarettes. As a lonely freshman, I could find an immediate connection with another person by walking up and asking, “Can I bum one of those?” Then, as is smoker etiquette, you stand there and talk. Maybe you become friends.

Maybe you become lovers, as was the case when I moved to Charleston by myself and found a boyfriend by chatting up a cute guy in the smoking section outside a sports bar. My own husband bummed a cigarette from me to “get my attention,” as he would later admit. (I guess I looked like the sort of trouble he liked.)

More: How you really get someone to quit smoking, from an ex-smoker

You will find the best conversations among cigarette smokers. I don’t know why this is. Possibly because we’re usually outside the actual bar, away from the loud music, so conversations can actually be heard. Smokers are more likely to open up and tell funny stories to strangers, maybe because it goes back to that shared bond…

“Oh, you have a slight nicotine-infused death wish? Me too. Let’s be friends.”

Smoking a cigarette with someone is like opening a door and peering inside. It’s wacky but true. It’s also a really good excuse to take a break from work.

The Surgeon General hates me right now, and my mother is having a panic attack. I’m not saying you should start smoking just to meet men and make friends. You can do both those things without a coffin nail in hand. However, in defense of social smoking, at least it’s not meth. At least it’s not drunk driving. If you have the occasional puff, more power to you. Go ahead and scoff at societal conventions of health and be the bad girl from the movies. Just be ready to share a funny story or like me, meet the man of your dreams.

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