'Chipping' Could Become Primary Means of Tobacco Use

Growing restrictions on tobacco use and higher prices for cigarettes could make more smokers into 'chippers' — light smokers who light up perhaps a few times a day, mostly socially, and have no desire to quit — the Associated Press reported Jan. 22.

Most research has focused on heavy smokers, but up to 15 million Americans say they only smoke intermittently. Researcher Saul Shiffman of the University of Pittsburgh Department of Psychology said that chippers tend to smoke in specific situations and places, as opposed to heavy smokers who smoke whenever and wherever they can.

“For some people, it may be that social setting of drinking at a bar with friends who are also smoking. For someone else, it may be with coffee by themselves in the morning,” Shiffman said.

Light and moderate smoking is more common in states with tough antismoking laws, leading experts to predict that chipping may become the norm in the future. In other countries, a majority of smokers light up on a less-than-daily basis; in poor countries, the reason is that they can't afford to smoke more.

Chippers also present challenges for smoking prevention, since they don't match the typical profile of the addicted smokers. “If people have no craving for cigarettes outside that special situation where they're drinking in a bar, and they can go weeks without a cigarette and it doesn't interrupt their thoughts that they need a cigarette, then they probably have no addiction,” said Joseph Difranza of the University of Massachusetts' Medical School in Worcester, Mass.

Other researchers, however, said that some chippers may be former heavier smokers who have been able to cut back but not quit altogether.  

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