Where are you on the smoking spectrum?

An interesting question came up the other day: Is there a difference between being a non-smoker and being an ex-smoker?

Some people would define a non-smoker as someone who has never smoked before, and an ex-smoker as someone who has quit smoking. Is there a point of abstinence after which an ex-smoker reverts back to being a non-smoker?

More importantly, what’s the value in creating these labels?

As human beings, we seem to have a need to put ourselves into categories that match a defined set of behaviors. The category then normalizes the behaviors, because everybody knows what fits into that group. When it comes to quitting smoking, what are the different category labels and what behaviors fall into each group?

How about this?

* Smoker — someone who is actively smoking with no intention to quit anytime soon, if ever.
* Quitting — someone who intends to stop smoking and may be abstinent a lot of the time, but is using cigarettes periodically.
* Ex-smoker — someone who has quit smoking, is abstinent without lapses (isolated smoking episodes), but still transitioning to a lifestyle where smoking is no longer a concern.
* Non-smoker — someone who has maintained abstinence for an extended period of time and who has no concerns of relapse whatsoever.
* Smoke-free — someone who doesn’t smoke, and there’s no indication of whether they have or haven’t in the past.

How do you think about yourself? Are these groups valid? Is there a timeline for transitioning? Can you really go back to being a non-smoker? Or is that misleading, implying you never smoked? Does “non-smoker” only apply to those who never started?

There is no hard fast rule. The bottom line is really about you and how you view yourself in light of tobacco addiction. How you define and label yourself in your mind will impact how you feel and the choices you make. Decide where you want to be, how you want to conceptualize yourself with regards to smoking, and the actions that fit that concept will flow more naturally in support of that image.

By Jennifer A. Kern, M.S., C.T.T.S.

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