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Smokers who report smoking but do not consider themselves smokers: a phenomenon in need of further attention
  1. Eric C Leas,
  2. Rong W Zablocki,
  3. Steven D Edland,
  4. Wael K Al-Delaimy
  1. Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Wael K Al-Delaimy, Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, University of California, San Diego, Stein Clinical Research Building Room 250, 9500 Gilman Dr., 0628 La Jolla, CA 92093-0628, USA; waldelaimy{at}


Background Heightened stigma surrounding the action of smoking may decrease the likelihood that individuals who engage in smoking identify with the label ‘smoker’. Non-identifying smokers (NIS) may undermine accurate smoking prevalence estimates and can be overlooked by tobacco control efforts.

Objective We sought to characterise NIS in a cross-sectional study using a sample representative of the population of adults (>18 years) in California who reported smoking at least 100 cigarettes in their lifetime, smoking at least some days and at least once in the last 30 days (n=1698). Individuals were considered NIS if they met the above criteria and answered ‘no’ when asked if they ‘considered themselves a smoker’.

Results We estimate that 395 928 (SD=54 126) NIS were living in California in 2011 (a prevalence of 12.3% of all smokers in California). The odds of being NIS were higher among non-daily smokers who were previously daily smokers (adjusted OR (AOR)=7.63, 95% CI 2.67 to 21.8) or were never previously daily smokers (AOR=7.14, CI 2.78 to 18.3) compared with daily smokers. The odds of being an NIS were also higher among those who did not believe they were addicted to cigarettes (AOR=3.84, CI 1.68 to 9.22), were older than 65 years (vs less than 45 years) (AOR=3.35, CI 1.16 to 9.75) or were from ethnic minorities including Black and Asian (vs non-Hispanic white) (AOR=3.16, CI 1.19 to 8.49).

Conclusions Smoking surveillance should restructure selection criteria to more accurately account for NIS in areas with high stigma toward smokers. Targeted interventions may be needed for NIS including educating healthcare providers to enquire more deeply into smoking habits.

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