Some smokers feel the need to be secretive about their nicotine habit, and are cautious to smoke in private and conceal the evidence. But even with this discretion, it's hard for smokers to completely hide their habit from others. Telltale signs of smoking include finding physical evidence, observing a change in behavior, smelling smoke or noticing changes in appearance. Some of the smoking signs are overt, while others may be less obvious.
Finding a pack of cigarettes is one of the most obvious signs a person is smoking. Sometimes the location may be obvious -- in a pocket, jacket, backpack or purse, but true closet smokers may hide their stash so carefully, their cigarettes are only discovered by accident. Finding lighters, matches, rolling papers, or other smoking paraphernalia may also clue you in to a person's smoking habits. A full ashtray, a smoke-scented car, cigarette butts or burn marks on clothing or furniture are also clues that warrant further investigation.
There are also many appearance and scent-related clues that suggest a person is smoking. The most noticeable is the smell of smoke, causing clothes, hair, breath or skin to be stinky. Sometimes the smoker masks this smell with too much cologne or perfume, or with excessive use of breath mints, gum or mouthwash. Long-term smokers tend to have yellow-tinted nails and fingers, and their teeth may have brownish-black stains on the inside and yellowish stains on the outside. Smokers also may suffer from premature wrinkling of skin, particularly near the lips, eyes, ears and neck. Long-term smokers also commonly have a dry cough and a raspy voice.
The nicotine in cigarettes is an addictive substance, and regular smokers may experience cravings and related behaviors, including an increased need to smoke, even first thing in the morning or when sick. Withdrawal symptoms, such as cravings, irritability, anger, depressed mood, anxiety, difficulty concentrating and restlessness are also common in smokers who try to quit or who don't have access to their cigarettes for a period of time.
Closet smokers may signal their habit by strange or secretive behavior. They may make up stories about why they need to take a walk, go for a drive or run an errand, just so they can smoke. They may also try to hide their receipts or pay cash to conceal their cigarette purchases. Smokers may want to shower, brush teeth or change clothes right when they come home, before getting close to family members. Teens may be hanging out with older friends, and adults may be taking work breaks or lunches with friends who smoke. The desire to hide cigarette use may also lead to less obvious ways to obtain nicotine, such as the use of vape pens and e-cigarettes.
Smoking is an unhealthy behavior, and the use of cigarettes can lead to many different health problems. If your loved one smokes, and is ready to quit, have him speak with his doctor for guidance and to learn about available resources for a successful plan of smoking cessation.
Reviewed by Kay Peck, MPH RD