Secret smoker - a case history

Secret smoker – a case history

This is about two contrasting people – a secret smoker and a social smoker – who came to see me within a day of each other. Nicola* and Angela* both wanted to stop smoking but had two very different problems.

Angela was, in her words, a social smoker. “I never smoke on my own” she told me, “but why would I want to – it’s rank. The problem for me is that my friends smoke, and when we’re out having a drink that’s when I smoke. I want to stop, before I become a proper smoker.”

On the ‘walks like a duck, quacks like a duck’ principle I explained that someone who bought their own cigarettes and then smoked them could be classed as a ‘proper smoker’. Not considering herself someone who really smoked meant that Angela could push away all of the negative connotations she had with smoking.

Talking to her it became clear that the peer pressure she felt under had long since disappeared. That, and helping Angela to accept the fact that she was a ‘proper smoker’, something she disliked, helped her to break her old habit.

Nicola’s smoking was very different. “No one knows I’ve come to see you”, she told me “as no one even knows I smoke. I’ve been a secret smoker for the last three years, since soon after our daughter was born. My husband doesn’t know, and I work with my mum and she doesn’t know either.”

I asked Nicola what had prompted her to stop if no-one knew she was smoking. Was it the expense perhaps, or her health? “It’s having to keep such a secret. I’d be so ashamed if my husband or my mum found out”, she told me, “and I think my little girl is beginning to notice the smell on me.”

I was honest with Nicola – if her three year old had noticed then her husband and her mum could well have picked up on it too. Trying to pretend she wasn’t a smoker was causing her a lot of stress and upset. Instead, why not use the support and encouragement of her husband and her mum?

So there we have it – Angela our social smoker, feeling she was under peer pressure and denying the extent to which she smoked, and Nicola, our secret smoker convinced that no-one knew and she had to stop on her own. They had more in common than they might have thought.

Nicola stopped after one session. She later told me that her husband told her he always knew, although she never had that conversation with her mother. Angela took a couple of sessions, and found that one lapse when she was drunk at a party made her hate it even more.

* Nicola’s and Angela’s real identities have been protected, and they are happy to share their stories.

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