The Closet Smoker


March 14th, 2001, 7:51 pm#1

Joel's Reinforcement Library

The Closet Smoker

"I can't come to the rest of the sessions. Nobody in my family knows I've relapsed and if I have to come here the next five nights, I will have to tell them where I'm going. I couldn't face them after that." I've had a number of past clinic participants who had relapsed and came to the first night of the clinic to tell me they were going to try on their own, without the support of the group and the rest of the sessions, solely to avoid the embarrassment of admitting their relapse. While some do quit after staying for the first session, others just continue smoking because they just can't seem to muster up the motivation to get through the initial stage of withdrawal on their own.

What follows for these closet smokers are lives complicated far beyond that of the potential life threatening health risks from smoking. More immediate of a risk is living a lie that places them in constant fear of being exposed. This will drastically reduce the amount smoked. The closet smoker will only smoke when the opportunity permits. But that means spending numerous hours every day, and possibly even entire days in a state of constant withdrawal. When they do get a chance to sneak a cigarette, what if someone sees them? What will that person think of them? Who else will they tell? Even if not seen, what about the smell? For a while the smoker may claim that the smell is from second hand smoke, but that just puts them deeper in the deception. If they do eventually get caught everyone will know that all the other times that they were being accused by some significant other, who thought they smelled it, that their denial then was a blatant lie too.

While some who are reading this may think, "Who cares what other people think," you should understand that to this kind of individual, others' opinion of the smoker's strength or integrity is extremely important. If it were not, they would not have faced the initial dilemma of how to come to the clinic without admitting the failure. They are stuck in chronic withdrawal and the chronic anxiety of being caught, all for the luxury of sneaking a cigarette here and there to temporarily alleviate withdrawal whenever possible. It is obvious that the closet smoker is not smoking for enjoyment. They can't enjoy it during the act because they're afraid of being caught. The reason for lighting any given cigarette is plain and simple - the nicotine addict is getting their much needed drug fix, a fix that would not be necessary if they would just quit smoking and end the vicious withdrawal cycle.

The only logical solution to this problem is to quit smoking. And while the closet smoker may eventually be successful in quitting smoking, since they were already supposed to have quit, how will they then explain the serious mood swings and other physical withdrawal symptoms (including why they seem so irritable or maybe even irrational), during the first few days of withdrawal? While it may be embarrassing to confess, it is in all probability the best solution. Admit to relapse and find the time needed to get involved in a smoking cessation support group. Also, let people around you know what you are going through. Those closest to you can often be extremely supportive and understanding, but only if they know that their help is needed.

Once you do quit, do everything in your power to avoid ever having to go through quitting again. Smoking will be more expensive than you remember, more socially unacceptable, just as unhealthy and it could cost you your life It may effect your social status, making many question your general sensibilities as well as your lack of concern for all non-smokers and ex-smokers around you. If you try to hide the fact that you relapse, you expose yourself to being caught and then viewed as a liar and a cheat, all for the "joy" of a nicotine fix. Never forget what each day was like when you were a smoker and it will make it much easier to always choose to - NEVER TAKE ANOTHER PUFF!

Edited 12-29-13 to insert related video Closet smokers
Last edited by Joel on December 29th, 2013, 3:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Carolyn (gold)

March 14th, 2001, 8:22 pm#2

I cried when I read your post Joel, that was me, always on the lookout for an opportunity to smoke. Missed out on a lot of good things I could have shared with my family. Went backpacking in Egypt, last summer for 6 weeks, I must have visited every rest room in that country, I think I made the decision then to kick this addiction into touch.


March 15th, 2001, 7:40 am#3

Wow.....I was actually a closet smoker. I only smoked in front of people that smoked. To everyone else, I was a non-smoker. I was constantly worried about the smell, changing clothes, and taking showers and baths to cover up the evidence. Talk about missing out on things. I would not go to certain events (mostly weekend) because I did not want to go an entire weekend without smoking. This really is freedom, and every now and then I have to really stop and think about the things that I can do now, that I was not able to do before. Also, who wants to listen to a therapist who specializes in addiction who is puffing away. NOT.


October 18th, 2001, 11:34 pm#4

Joel, you are amazing. How do you know all of this? I felt and still feel exactly what you wrote. I was going through withdrawnal day in and day out. Of course not realizing what it was. I did come clean with my children last weekend, it wasn't a pretty scene. My oldest son was beside himself. I have talked to him sense and he's better, pleased I stopped for good. It was a let down, they were so proud of me quitting smoker, especially since I do have emphysema. All I could do is ask for their forgiveness and to realize I am not perfect. And I will never have a relapse.

You are going to read this a great deal. Bless you Joel for being you.


knowbutts (Gold)

November 17th, 2001, 11:27 am#5

Oh Man,
When I think of what I missed while I was shackled to my smoking hideout. I couldn't go far or stay away long.
Just thinking about that place is making my heart pound and my throat dry. A big ol' CRAVE! The nicodemons lies are like the sirens song. Well he can sing all he wants. I'm busy living and breathing free. Ha

Thanks Joel

katieque (silver)

March 18th, 2002, 3:49 am#6

Wow. I can totally relate to this. I too was a closet smoker for years. I always hid it from my 6 year old son , years ago I would hide it from my husband. Sneaking outside through the basement door while he slept, took a shower or whatever. After the embarrassment of getting caught I finally did smoke in front of him. It was pathetic. The people I work with did not know, except for a few. I'm so glad not to "have to" change coats in the morning or not wear one at all for fear of the other coats on the coatrack smelling. The big worry of being out of gum or lotion. Some days that would stress me more than being out of cigarettes. I have told a few co-workers about my quit but I still feel like I'm living out the big secret. Sometimes I think I enjoyed the excitement of it all but in reality I know I'm just an addict. Thanks for the post Joel.

NevadaGal Gold

April 12th, 2002, 9:57 am#7

I was a part-time closet smoker! I never thought about being a closet smoker while I was smoking, it was just my routine life pattern.

I just figured I could not smoke in certain company, and I would spend hours and days in constant withdrawl. I only smoked in front of some of my family and even had a job for 11 months where I worked up to 24 hour shifts and did not smoke SEVERAL DAYS PER WEEK with twenty-four hours per day of withdrawl times 3 days equals 72 hours every week!! ?.!... Boy, if only I had known that the withdrawls would most likely lighten up within a few hours...

Well, I feel so much better now, even with slight bouts of restlessness and anxiety during this quit (especially the first week), it does not even compare to the level of withdrawl that I maintained for several weeks, probably adding up to several months, in the past few years. Here I am just coming up on 4 weeks, and I feel better than I have in a long time. And the best part is I know that I do not have to do any type of peak withdrawls ever again! I never have to deal with the anxiety of wondering when I will get to break for a smoke or find a hiding place or an excuse for a long lonesome walk...

This is FREEDOM!! Another reason to believe that no matter how I feel at the moment, in the long run I know that I am so much happier as an ex-smoker!!

Three weeks, six days, 17 hours, 54 minutes and 53 seconds. 277 cigarettes not smoked, saving $18.03. Life saved: 23 hours, 5 minutes.


April 12th, 2002, 7:07 pm#8

WOW this article could have been wrote for me, I have lied to so many people and felt ashamed every day of my life over it, and the only one's I can celebrate this quit with, are you people here and my husband, I dont know how this happened, I started of when I was younger having to hide my smoking from my parents as they would have been so disappointed in me ( I could do no wrong!) so that led to me lying to friends workmates, anyone who might let the cat out of the bag, and of course my own children, and it just reached the stage where everyone thought I did'nt smoke , and I would have felt a fool telling them otherwise.
I have had to avoid taking part in school activities I feared withdrawal, and I have even cut short days out and holidays in my need to feed my addiction, there were times when my kids were younger ,if they fell while playing and came running in for a hug, if I had just smoked I would have to say mum just needs the bathroom first, so I could go and try to get the stink off myself first.All of this fills me with shame as I have forfeited years with my family,friends and especially my kids,who are now grown up.But I am now also filled with hatred for cigarettes for robbing me of time spent with loved ones.I cant turn back the clock,so I am now trying to make up for a lot of missed time.
Take care
Love Naymor xxxxx
10 days at 10pm tonight


May 17th, 2002, 7:50 pm#9

How can you use someone's closet smoking status to a possible advantage to help the person quit? If you know someone is smoking and hiding it, don't let on that you know. As soon as you do they feel at liberty to smoke in peace and happiness, after all, they have nothing to hide now.

Instead, congratulate them in every way possible. Let them constantly know how proud you are of them. Lay it on thick. The guilt will eat them alive. Maybe it will make them realize the lie they are living and embarrass them into one of two actions.

One, they may just fess up. At least you will have a little more trust of them. But it may take another more positive turn. They may feel so guilty that they quit smoking. The pleasure of a drug fix will be short lived when the guilt of every puff is added to the other obvious problems that go along with smoking.

The more smoking is recognized as a liability, interfering with a person's health, life, money, self-esteem, the way they smell, look, are perceived by others, and even their personal integrity is at risk as is in the case here, the more likely logic will finally prevail. The only logical solution to avoid such a way of life is to never take another puff!



May 24th, 2002, 4:36 am#10

Holy Cow! This was me...only, I think my closet behavior was magnified aobut 1000X. I worked with 7 women for a year who did not know that I smoked. People thought I was just anti-social, when in reality, I was staying home at night to feed my addiction because I would not smoke in public. So in my case, FREEDOM means a lot, because it means being able to go places and do things that I never would have before.

2 weeks 1 day
Nicotene FREE!

OBob Gold

July 13th, 2002, 1:28 pm#11

You know, I was talking to my mother yesterday. Her friend's son has been diagnosed with lung cancer, and it's spread.... all over. He's 33...... 33.

She says to me, "and he didn't even smoke." "Really!" I replied. "Well, only one or two here or there. Just occassionally."

Of course, she's getting this from his mother. And, I'm thinking to myself, "yeah, and you didn't think I smoked at all." Of course, I have no way of knowing how much the poor guy really smoked. But, I also know how many people hide their addiction from their parents (especially mothers!). I did. Several of my friends have. I have to wonder, if his mother knew he was smoking some, did he really have the control he seemed to have from her perception? Or, was he, like so many other closet smokers, quietly, uncontrollably and secretly poisoning himself on a regular basis?

You can hide it from your parents, your boss, your co-workers, friends.... you can't hide it from everything.


March 20th, 2003, 12:41 am#12

I have been a closet smoker for the past two years after my relapse (I quit for 3 yrs). In the last two years, I have smoked only in my garage at home and in my car (with my air freshener always in reach).
I have been in a perputual state of withdrawal which maybe why this quit has been okay - I am used to this feeling on a daily basis! I have lived in fear that my parents and friends would find out (of course, it is very possible that they knew- a non-smokers nose is very perceptive!). I am tired of living a lie and tired of being a slave to nicotine!

By the way, for some inspiration for all - my parents both smoked (heavily)from their late teens until 40 years old. They both quit cold turkey over 30 years ago. Today, they are 73 years young - my dad golfs every day and my mom still water skis on one ski! They hike together on a regular basis and live each day to the fullest.


BubblyDoodlebug Gold

May 28th, 2003, 12:52 pm#13

I was a closet smoker. I learned lots of tricks. One was to drive to a park and I would put on a hooded sweat shirt put the hood up and get out of my van and smoke. I didn't care it was dark and dangerous. I probably looked dangerous myself standing there in the dark with my hood up smoking. Kind of like the Bruce Willis in "Unbreakable" When I was finished I would take my sweatshirt off and my clothes and hair would not smell like smoke. I would do this all year around no matter how cold or hot if it was raining or snowing. I didn't want people to know I went back to smoking. I figured I'd quit again before they figured it out.


November 23rd, 2003, 2:24 am#14

This was one of two articles that started me on the journey to become a non-smoker. Looking back, I can't believe how much I suffered being a closet smoker. I think I was in withdrawal for about 10 years. Sheila (Gold today)
One year, 5 hours, 24 minutes and 19 seconds. 5113 cigarettes not smoked, saving $894.80. Life saved: 2 weeks, 3 days, 18 hours, 5 minutes.


March 22nd, 2004, 5:46 pm#15

I was a closet smoker. I went to tremendous lengths to hide it from my family. Nrt was my way of avoiding smelling like smoke and keeping myself from severe withdraw around them. How rediculous I was... I would go months without seeing my parents because I didn't want to go through the process of taking a shower and putting on clean clothes after the first 6or 7 ciggs of the day. In public places I was always paranoid about running into them with a cigg in my mouth. I would hope that thier friends wouldn't recognize me if they saw me standing outside somewhere smoking. And so, even on the front porch (the only porch) of my apartment I would throw my cigg down whenever a white car that looked like my parent's went by. I would have still smelled terrible anyway but I figgured I could come up with some excuse.

My point is that I lead a life with paranoia that I would let my family down. I felt weak and stupid knowing what each puff was doing to me not only to my body but to my mind as well. I shut myself off from my family. I chose smoking over them.... Now I choose life over the chains and weight of addiciton.

I never enjoyed smoking but it ruled my life. Alienated me from the people I loved and destryed my self-esteem.
This is one of the many countless ways my addiciton was taking my life little by little each day.

I will never EVER take another puff ever again.

I have stopped nicotine for 8 days, 2 hours, 44 minutes and 47 seconds (8 days).

I've not smoked 162 death sticks, and saved $28.41.
I've saved 13 hours and 31 minutes of my life.


July 12th, 2004, 3:27 am#16

I wish I had thought of laying it on thick and making my fiance feel guilty about smoking instead of just letting her know that I knew she was still smoking. Instead, she's back to her regular smoking routine and all I can really do is hope she once again gets the courage to quit smoking.

Dave - Free and Healing for One Month, Nine Days, 12 Hours and 58 Minutes, while extending my life expectancy 6 Days and 20 Hours, by avoiding the use of 1977 nicotine delivery devices that would have cost me $235.65.


July 21st, 2004, 12:23 am#17

Wow - this thread caused me to revisit my life - the pieces and chunks that required me to give up friends and family for periods of time so that I could keep the addiction going.

As a public school teacher of health and biology, I was on constant alert lest the truth be discovered! How in the world could I honestly educate young people when I was harboring such a grevious defect in my own character???

My first husband was adamant about my NOT smoking - so therein was a challenge that kept me on edge for 14 years of a terrible marriage. No matter that HE was a clinical psychologist and a total control freak - I took MY power in my use of nicotine - whenever I was w/ friends who supported my habit and kept my secret. Of course, that I smelled like an ashtray could be "blamed" on the association w/ smokers/.

A divorce - and 5 years of single life - removed all the stops, other than my job. A remarriage was to a smoker - you have to know that I KNEW I never wanted to be around a nonsmoker again. Although we are divorced now, we are still friends and I am watching him die from lung cancer.

Through all of this - through 30 years of teaching - I hid my smoking from certain groups of folks. Oh, lordy, when I left town for long road trips - the freedom to smoke anywhere, anytime was heady stuff - until society began to put some restrictions on me.

SO - this thread has me looking back - but only for a moment - because 48 days ago - I began to look ahead - and I have been nic free for all that time - and now we can really talk about FREEDOM.

Thanks for being there! YQF - Vicki


November 15th, 2004, 10:18 pm#18

Boy can I ever relate to your story!! I am a new member - smoked for about 40 years and have now quit for 6 days. I was a closet smoker for the last 4 years or so. My story is so similar to yours - even though I love my family/friends so much I thought of excuses all the time to be alone - so I could smoke. I always encouraged my husband to go out-of-town, found ways to be by myself. It was horrible and got worse as the years went by. I even picked up butts off the street when I didn't want to buy any for fear of someone in the store recognizing me. Here's to a better and brighter future!


November 15th, 2004, 11:08 pm#19

This link really hit a nerve for me. I was a closet smoker for the last 4 years of my addiction. I started smoking when I was about 16 and continued until I got pregnant with my first child at 32 years old. I Quit through 2 pregnancies (smoked for the 6 months in between) and started again just a couple of days after my second was born. From then on, the deception began. I had 2 groups of friends which represented my duel personalities. One group were from my past, my smoking buddies. Looking back now, they actually encouraged my sneaking around to have a fix. They even supplied them and hid me out when neccessary so I could smoke. Then I had a second group of healthier friends. People I have met since my marriage and children. I would have been so embarrassed and ashamed if they saw me smoking. I would go for hours in withdrawal when ever we spent time together. After about 4 or 5 hours I would start thinking up reasons why I had to get away to get a fix. It was terrible. I was always in withdrawal or in a state of anxiety. I can't believe I lived this way for so long. I used to sneak away from my kids. As soon as they were old enough to be able to tell on me, I never let them see me do it again. Which meant leaving a 3 and 4 year old alone long enough to go outside to sneak a smoke. Thank God nothing ever happened while I was outside. I used to worry about that too while I was hurrying to finish a smoke. I honestly did not enjoy my smoking at all those 4 years. It was soley done to feed my need for nicotine. I know now (finally) that I am an addict and I can NTAP. No more lying to myself or those I love. Thanks for making me think and letting me get this off my chest. This site has made all the difference in my attitude towards my addiction. And that's what will keep me from going back. I truly know that ONE=ALL.

Cheryl - Free and Healing for One Month, Ten Days, 11 Hours and 5 Minutes, while extending my life expectancy 2 Days and 2 Hours, by avoiding the use of 607 nicotine delivery devices that would have cost me $136.79.


November 16th, 2004, 3:51 am#20

I just want to thank you for taking the time to write. It is SO GOOD to FINALLY talk to and listen to other people who were closet smokers. I really thought that I was alone in that "catagory". I have driven through snowstorms in the past, risked my life (I still can't believe the things I did) for a cigarette. And, it never really tasted that good! I went about 4 years too with my family thinking that I had quit. They were forever praising me and using me as an example to other relatives that couldn't or didn't want to quit. The guilt was tremendous. I am looking forward to a new life and feel like I have been reborn in the past 6 days. Thanks again.


November 17th, 2004, 7:39 am#21

I just read your story about being a closet smoker and could really relate to it! My problem was that I live in a small town so I couldn't smoke in public. Luckily we have some bush behind our house and I would spend much of my time taking my dogs for walks so I could smoke. I smoked "in the open" about a pack to pack-and-a-half for 35 years but spent the last 3-4 years in the "closet". Whenever I heard a car pull up in our driveway I would panic. I learned ways to hide it - it was great when the listermint strips came out because I would just put one of those in my mouth and "presto" - smell like mouthwash. Anyway, it ruled my life and I was very unhappy with myself most of the time. It is just unbelievable to me that I am not alone with my private smoking problem. I am still too ashamed to tell my family or friends that I "fell off the wagon" so long ago, but now I will NEVER HAVE ANOTHER PUFF. I feel terrific and honestly feel like I have been reborn or something.

Quit for 1 week now!


November 18th, 2004, 12:47 am#22

As one former closet smoker to another, congratulations!

Don't you just feel like the biggest weight has been lifted off your shoulders?

I think closet smokers have a slightly different quit experience than open smokers. On the one hand, it can be difficult because we may choose to make our quit "closet" as well, which means we don't have the support of others during our quit (and the dangerous junkie thinking of "if no one knows I'm quitting, no one will be disappointed if my quit fails" can also factor in.) Of course, this site really helps with that, since our exsmoking life is now known by a bunch of supportive people.

On the other hand, quitting gives closet smokers the added benefit of no longer having to live a lie (and all the stress and shame that went with it). I think if there were no other benefits to quitting, that alone makes it worth it.

I personally fessed up to a couple of friends about my former life as a closet smoker during the early days of my quit. It was difficult to do, but they were surprisingly supportive and it made me even more determined in my quit.

Today marks 100 days of living outside of the closet. And although my scale may disagree, I feel a hundred pounds lighter now that that stinky monkey is forever off my back.



November 25th, 2004, 11:14 pm#23

This thread really hits home ... I'm not with my family today, but I can't wait to have my first Christmas at my parents without constantly finding excuses to leave the house in order to smoke. (The worst excuse I ever came up with? "Mom, I can't drink this 1% milk. I'm going to the grocery store to pick up some skim milk." Embarassing, but I really did that. And probably smoked about four cigarettes in a row in the Kroger parking lot.)

I hid my smoking from different people for different reasons. From my parents, because they are former smokers and have a lot of guilt that my brother and I picked up the family addiction (and because they had been so proud of my previous quit). From my husband, who never smoked, because I knew he thought it was smelly and gross. From my boss, because I thought it looked like a sign of weakness. From one of my best friends, because she is very anti-smoking and I hated her lectures.

I did so much lying and sneaking around from those closest to me and for what? To feed my junky cravings. I didn't even realize what a burden the closet smoking really was until I stopped doing it.

You are so right in that the only way to break free from closet smoking is to quit all together. This year I am thankful to be guilt-free nonsmoker. Happy Thanksgiving!


August 8th, 2005, 6:40 pm#24

Smoke screen Some people go to great lengths to hide their habit By Joseph P. Kahn, Globe Staff | July 25, 2005

The penultimate episode of ''Everybody Loves Raymond" outed one of the series' recurrent characters -- Pat MacDougall, played by actress Georgia Engel -- as a secret cigarette smoker. Family members were stunned, if not amused, to discover Pat had been puffing away for years, concealing her habit with the aid of breath mints, air freshener, and other coverups.

One viewer who found herself laughing on the outside while cringing on the inside was Mary, a South Shore bank employee. For Mary, Pat's dirty little secret was more than an uproarious sitcom subplot. It was an awkward slice of life.

Her life.

At home, Mary (like others interviewed for this article, she requested that her full name not be used) leans out her bathroom window, blowing smoke into the sky so her boyfriend won't smell it. When smoking in her car, she rolls down the windows, no matter how cold or rainy it is outside. On visits to her parents' house, she'll duck behind a backyard tree to grab a quick cigarette, praying she doesn't get caught.

Forty-five years old, not breaking any laws, and Mary acts like a teenager sneaking her first Camel behind the school gym.

Oh, what some people will apparently do for a date with Mr. Butts.

''I don't want to hear the grief, mostly from family and friends," Mary explains when asked why she's reluctant to light up in front of people who know her. ''They're very judgmental."

Mary is hardly alone in preferring to smoke in secrecy rather than run afoul of societal attitudes toward cigarette smoking, which are negative enough by now to drive Joe Camel into the witness protection program.

Health issues notwithstanding, 46 million Americans continue to smoke, however, openly or not. According to one study, 70 percent have a desire to quit, and nearly half make an attempt to, yet only 10 percent enjoy much success.

While no study has quantified how many are ''secret" smokers, the number may be higher than most suspect. Following the revelation that ABC News anchor Peter Jennings, a former smoker, is being treated for lung cancer, New York magazine polled 100 smokers about how often they smoke, where they smoke, and other aspects of their habit. One-third confessed to hiding their smoking from parents, bosses, children, or spouses.

In at least one state, Georgia, teachers and other public employees risk losing their health insurance for a year if they're caught lying about their smoking habit.

''I understand the health part," says Donna, a receptionist for a Chelsea home-supplies company. ''It's feeling like a criminal that's disturbing."

Secret smoking isn't just sitcom fodder, either. No less a public figure than Laura Bush was pegged as a secret smoker (her press secretary would neither confirm nor deny press reports) as recently as last year, long after she supposedly gave up cigarettes in the early 1990s. According to an October 2002 Washington Post article, the first lady has been known to reach for a cigarette in times of stress, provided no photographers are there to catch her in the act.

The White House Weekly published a February 2004 article suggesting Bush was still struggling with the habit. According to the report, a White House waiter admitted scrambling to find the first lady a cigarette during a fund-raiser at the presidential residence.

And yet the Republic somehow still stands.

Donna can relate. She loved that ''Raymond" episode also, for much the same guilty-pleasure reason. Having tried to quit dozens of times, she can't quite seem to quit her Kools for keeps. Yet Donna never smokes around the office. She only does it on her lunch breaks when she's far from the workplace, where nobody she knows might catch her in the act.

''I feel like the office drug addict," Donna confesses. ''They all think it's nasty. They'd look down on me if they knew I smoked."

A few close friends share her secret habit, says Donna. Fortunately she's single and doesn't have a husband who's antismoking, as many of them do. Or she'd be bathing with Listerine and chain-chewing Altoids.

''How do you hide it completely?" she wonders. ''If you can't smoke in the car, do you pull over and light up? Come on. If you can hide something like that from your husband, you can hide anything, I guess."

Anecdotal evidence suggests not all closet smokers fit into one neat carton. Some resumed smoking recently, after going years without cigarettes, and seem unsure of what to do about their situation. The enjoyment they get from smoking is frequently undercut by guilt about compromising their health, they say, not to mention the health of their most intimate relationships.

''I won't buy [cigarettes], but every now and then I'll bum one from friends," says Lisa, who took up smoking (again) while traveling on company sales trips with colleagues who smoke. Her husband remains clueless about her tobacco jones -- or did until a couple of months ago, when she decided to quit again -- yet his ignorance seems to have worked to her advantage.

''I'd been fighting whether this was something temporary or permanent," Lisa says. ''If I acknowledged it to him, I was afraid it might become a full-time habit again. Now I just have one every once in a while."

Mark, an Orlando, Fla., dietitian, doesn't smoke at home or at work but still manages to go through 10 to 15 Marlboro Lights daily. Friends call him a closet smoker, he says, because he's so discreet about it they're amazed to see him smoke at all.

''I don't really hide it, but I certainly don't brag about it, either," Mark says. ''I have a daughter who knows I smoke and doesn't like it, though, so I don't do it around her. My intentions are to quit."

Still others say they've lied outright about their smoking and are prepared to do so again if it means avoiding an ugly or embarrassing confrontation.

Joan, a Boston-area college administrator, started smoking again recently after quitting a two-pack-a-day habit years ago. Her boyfriend, who's never seen her smoke, stopped by her apartment unexpectedly one day and smelled smoke. He asked suspiciously who'd been smoking.

''I had no one else to blame, so I told him I enjoyed one every once in a while," says Joan. ''It was totally untrue. Actually, I smoke about half a pack a day."

Then there was the couple's vacation weekend together, Joan says, when she didn't touch a cigarette for three days. As soon as her boyfriend dropped her off at home, however, she lit one up. ''I'm struggling with this," she admits.

What drives some smokers to cloak their habit in such secrecy?

One point on which most agree is that the social stigma around smoking makes it a hard habit to manage, and thus more tempting to disguise. Smoke-free office buildings, hotel rooms, bars, and restaurants have driven smokers into quasi-legal exile. Relatives and co-workers don't just frown at the habit, they recite scary statistics about secondhand smoke. Public-education campaigns and rising taxes on cigarettes have also helped make smoking both riskier and more costly than ever.

''You can drink socially and not be called an alcoholic," says Lisa. ''But if you smoke socially, you're a smoker. Period."

All smoking aside, how toxic might the behavior itself be?

While most smokers recognize that cigarettes are bad for them, says clinical psychologist Maryann Troiani, they may be less than truthful with themselves when it comes to measuring the harmful effects of secrecy.

''Psychologically, it's as bad as cheating on your spouse and hiding it," says Troiani, coauthor of ''Spontaneous Optimism: Proven Strategies for Health, Prosperity & Happiness." ''When you're not truthful, it's a big wedge in the relationship."

Whether it's having an extramarital affair or habitually visiting strip clubs or overeating in secret, it's ''all the same can of worms," according to Troiani. ''Some people view it as risk-taking behavior, as living their lives on the edge," she says. ''However, most feel uneasy and uncertain about keeping secrets."

Even Joan, when pressed, acknowledges that if she's forced to choose between smoking and her relationship, it would be a tough call. That's one reason her next vacation won't be with her boyfriend. Instead, Joan plans to meet a girlfriend in Europe, where smoking is a more accepted -- even cherished -- custom.

''When I get home," Joan says, ''we'll see what happens."

Joseph P. Kahn can be reached at

© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Note: Smoking was referred to as a "habit" ten times in this article. The only reference to the term addiction was the line, ""I feel like the office drug addict."

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August 11th, 2005, 11:21 am#25

Being a closet smoker was way too difficult - I tried it, but only for three months (during a relapse last year) and decided it was WAY too much work so rather than come out of the closet with my smoking, I decided to quit again instead ~ I'm sure you'll agree that was by far the smarter decision.
What I don't really get is why these closet smokers (myself included) would ever really think that they were hiding anything. Regardless of the breath mints, mouth wash, washing your hands, hand lotion, purfume, airfreshner, whatever... the smoke smell STILL lingers, and it can still be detected. I have encountered many a closet smoker who thinks that they are hiding it, but really... it's such a strong and fowl smell, it can't be hidden easily. I used to try everything, nothing worked... until I resolved to having a full shower... wow!... what a pain in the butt that was ~ re-doing hair and make-up just for a smoke - it quickly became not worth it and thank God for that...
~*~ Grateful Every Single Day that I said GOOD-BYE to the closet! ~*~
Christy xx
Breathing Easy Since April 11th 2005 ~ That's 121 days!