Why do smokers keep on smoking?
By Surya Solanki
Cigarettes are the only consumer good that when used as intended, they kill half of their users. Reports by the CDC have shown that an average adult male smoker loses 13.2 years of his life, while the same ratio for a female smoker stands at 14.5. So why do people continue smoking when they know that health consequences are only bad? We review here. And invite your comments and questions about getting help for nicotine addiction in the section at the end.
What’s in a cigarette?
According to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 15 billion cigarettes are sold daily. A cigarette contains more than 4000 chemicals, of which 69 cause cancer. Smoking is harmful and even the tobacco companies are acknowledging this. For example, Reynolds American has prohibited smoking inside its offices, while executives of tobacco firms are jumping on the anti-smoking bandwagon.
Yet, there are about 1.1 billion smokers in the world, with 21% of the male population and 16% the female population using the “ultimate gateway drug that is legally available and requires the mastery of a unique method”. so what’s the first reason why smokers keep on smoking?
Reason #1: Nicotine
Nicotine is the drug contained in tobacco that gets a smoker addicted. One school of thought argues that smoking is not a habit but simply an addiction to nicotine. As written by a Philip Morris executive in 1971, a cigarette pack is nothing but a “dispenser for a dose unit of nicotine”. But what is nicotine, exactly?
Nicotine is an oily, colorless compound used an additive ingredient in cigarettes. A single cigarette contains between 8 to 20 milligrams of nicotine, which is enough to kill a person if injected directly into his bloodstream. Our body, however, absorbs only around 10% of the nicotine present in a cigarette, thus eliminating the risk of ‘nicotine poisoning’. Scientists have suggested that bringing down the nicotine content absorbed by the body to less than 0.5 milligrams will reduce the addictive capacity of a cigarette. But the tobacco firms are unlikely to do that.
How does nicotine addiction work
Nicotine is a fast-acting drug that reaches our brain within 10 seconds after we take a drag of a cigarette. An acute dose of nicotine releases dopamine in the brain’s central nervous system, thus, artificially increasing the level of the “feel good” chemical of the brain. As the body develops a tolerance against nicotine, more cigarettes are required to achieve the same high. But chronic nicotine intake results in desensitization of the nicotine receptors. And nicotine addiction is more than physical dependence or tolerance to nicotine’s effects.
After stubbing out a cigarette, the smoker experiences withdrawal symptoms as the nicotine starts leaving the body and the dopamine level falls. The withdrawal makes the smoker restless and agitated. He feels that something is ‘missing’ and when this feeling is prolonged, the smoker becomes anxious and irritable. This is the hunger for nicotine and when smoker lights one up, his “craving ends”. So the smoker feels relaxed by smoking a cigarette because the latter ends the tension created by the previous cigarette. This is why the major sign of nicotine addiction is the craving and obsessive thinking that occurs when a smoker needs the next cigarette.
Reason #2: Brainwashing and Exploitation of the Subconscious
As Allen Carr wrote in his book ‘The Easy Way to Stop Smoking’, tobacco companies have used the power of the subconscious mind for years to “promote the image of smoking as normal, natural and cool”. Subconscious conditioning refers to the messages that go into the brain without conscious knowledge.
While growing up, youngsters are bombarded with messages that claim that cigarettes relieve stress, help in concentration and provide relaxation. They see their favorite movies, family members and ‘cool’ high school friends smoking.So the message that settles in their subconscious mind is that smoking is acceptable, cool, rebellious and so on.
On several occasions, our conscious self sees the harm in smoking, but our subconscious convinces us that smoking is “manly and provides pleasure”. One can get over the nicotine withdrawal within two weeks but it is his subconscious mind will make him continue smoking.
Reason #3: Internal justifications
How do smokers justify an addiction to cigarettes? In order to justify their addiction, smokers tend to reason that a cigarette has its own benefits. They are simply myths we all have been manipulated into believing. Here are some of the common ones:
1. Relaxation: Nicotine withdrawal creates stress and agitation. When the smoker lights a cigarette, he relieves that stress and feels better. However, the real stress still remains. The smoker is just in a better position to handle it since he does not have to face the additional stress created by nicotine withdrawal.
2. Boredom: Smoking does not relieve boredom. Instead it just provides a momentary distraction like any other activity would.
3. Concentration: Withdrawal pangs from nicotine act as a distraction and the smoker can’t concentrate until his addiction is fed. When he smokes, he removes his distraction and thus his concentration level ‘increases’.
4. Social activity: Smoking is not a social activity but it is used a reason by the smokers to feed their nicotine addiction.
5. Weight Loss: Nicotine pangs are like hunger pangs so one might confuse the two. Hence, instead of eating, a smoker may have a cigarette. But at the same time, if a smoker does not have access to a cigarette, he may eat when suffering from nicotine pangs.
Don’t get stuck in the reasons
In conclusion, there are some really basic reasons why smokers continue smoking. Physical dependence on nicotine can make quitting smoking very difficult. However, all smokers must address the mental and psychological reasons behind why they smoke in order to quit for good.
While it can be uncomfortable, the effort to quit smoking is one of the best and most important things that you can ever do for your health. If you need help, support, or have questions about this process…please leave us a note in the comments section below. We do our best to respond to all legitimate queries with a personal and prompt reply.
Reference Sources: National Center for Biotechnology Information
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