Closet Smokers and Their Burden of Secrecy

Michal Marcol /

Despite the fact that smoking is still widely prevalent and Big Tobacco company hasn’t relinquished the will to continue marketing its products, cigarettes have actually become quite taboo in recent years. Whereas they were a status symbol in the 1950’s and 60’s (Think of a chain smoking Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s or any of the big shots in Madmen), cigarettes have now been relegated to the plain of trashy and unhealthy—socially frowned upon and seen as a marker of bad taste. The problem with making cigarettes taboo is that the forbidden is at once enticing and shaming, a potent combination that often leads to lies and secrecy and thus engenders the phenomenon of the closet smoker.

Closet smokers are secret smokers. They make sure to hide their nicotine habit from specific people, whether it is family, friends, partners, or coworkers. Closet smokers have developed a smoking habit that they are ashamed of—it is something that they crave and simultaneously feel the need to hide. Some may hide their smoking for the thrill, others because it makes them feel dirty, and still others because they don’t want to disappoint the ones they love. Whatever the reason, closet smoking is not just physically harmful—it is psychologically and relationally harmful as well.

If you are a closet smoker and you want to break free of this double-bind habit, then you need to start by identifying why you are engaging in smoking mixed with secrecy. It is one thing to take on smoking as a social habit, but smoking as an anti-social habit (which is what closet smoking is) may be a way for you to deal with hidden feelings of shame or fear that you have about yourself and your relationships with others. It may also be a sign that you are trying to avoid problems you are having in your life or that you feel that you fear being rejected or punished by those who love you.

Whatever the reason you are engaging in closet smoking, it is ultimately something that only you can identify, admit, and change. One thing to remember is that closet smoking is secretive and secrets are burdens. Secrets keep us isolated from our true selves and from those we love. Smoking is a difficult habit to break and it often requires that you find support from others. If you are keeping your struggle with your smoking habit hidden, then you are less likely to be able to stop it. If you want to give up the secrets and the detrimental ways that they impact your life, open up those closet doors today and start living in the light of honesty and health.