Smoke? You may be an outgoing jerk

3 minute read

Personality traits may play a role in how folks take their tobacco, or don’t.

As a young man, your Back Page scribbler is ashamed to admit, he was a smoker.

Thankfully, some delayed-onset maturity eventually triumphed and we are happy to say we haven’t touched a gasper for well over three decades.

In hindsight, it is easy to look back and ask one’s youthful self: What on earth were you thinking? And it would be even easier to blame the prevailing social environment. E.g. both my parents smoked, so did my older sister, and so did my grandparents and many of my friends.

But the reality is, even in those bygone days, we all knew full well that cigarettes were a deeply harmful and highly addictive pastime. So blaming my external circumstances is a bit of a cop-out.

The real reason I smoked was down to my personality. Put simply, I was an impressionable idiot.

But don’t just take my word for it.

According to international research published today in PLOS ONE, cigarette smokers, cigar smokers and non-smokers have distinctive and disparate personality types which may drive their decisions and behaviours when it comes to tobacco consumption.

To reach this conclusion, Portuguese researchers examined the association between Big Five personality traits (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) and cigar or cigarette smoking in a sample of nearly 10,000 older adults across 11 European countries.

When it comes to cigarette smoking, the boffins found these smokers scored quite highly on the extraversion front but did not perform so well when it came to conscientiousness and agreeableness. They then speculated that this low conscientiousness might reflect a lack of self-discipline and propensity for impulsive behaviour while the reduced agreeableness might explain why smokers persist in their habit in the face of increasing social disapproval.

On the upside, by being more extraverted smokers are probably enjoying the social nature of the smoking. As the late, great comedian Sean Lock pointed out in his self-help book “From Nothin’ to Puffing in 10 Days”, smokers are “instantly popular in prisons” and “always made to feel welcome in the smoking shelters outside hospitals”.

As for cigar smokers, the authors said these folks tended to “exhibit lower neuroticism and higher openness compared to both cigarette smokers and non-smokers, underlining that the motivations and contexts of tobacco use are varied”.

The research also suggests that these personality traits are antecedents of subsequent smoking behaviours, making the findings potentially useful in the development of public health interventions and social policies aimed at reducing this pernicious addiction.

“Future research should explore these relationships in younger cohorts, potentially informing early intervention strategies that pre-empt the onset of smoking based on predisposition to certain personality types,” the authors say, and be expanded to include newer forms of smoking such as e-cigarettes.

Your correspondent suspects, however, that Big Tobacco might be somewhat ahead of the game in this regard when it comes to marketing their deadly products to receptive personalities, but we can but hope. 

Blow story-shaped smoke rings to

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