Why do people ignore this boldly written warning?
It is no hidden secret that smoking cigarettes is detrimental to our health, yet; it is not surprising to see many people including healthcare professionals take smoke breaks during the day. The topic of smoking is a debate that has been going on from time immemorial with opposing sides having valid notions to buttress their opinions. But I am not here to get into the ethical debate of the act of smoking. I am just here as a healthcare professional to shed some light on why it is very addictive.
As many of us already know through education and various media sources, tobacco smoking in itself is not addictive but rather it is the nicotine component that is added when the leaves are made into cigars and cigarettes that is. As the above documentary shows, in order to make the taste of tobacco appealing to the consumer many chemical components (also called add-ons or additives) such as urea, ammonia hydroxide, chocolate, butter fat, are added. This changes the chemical composition of the nicotine and makes it easily absorbed into the body.
Medical fact: It takes nicotine approximately 15 seconds to be absorbed into the entire body from the lungs upon inhalation. This is what makes smoking the leading cause of death worldwide.
According to Rosenberg (2013), tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable morbidity and mortality in the USA. In the USA, smoking is responsible for about one in five deaths annually or about 443,000 deaths per year (pg. 137). Despite these staggering numbers, cigarette smoking is still on the rise.
Ok now to the real reason why tobacco smoking is addictive and why people cannot quit easily. Nicotine after it is absorbed into our bodies, works on chemical receptors in our brains called dopamine. This is our feel good center. Due to the feeling of happiness, alertness and energy we get when we smoke, the brain produces more dopamine than needed and this triggers us to smoke more in order to continue to feel good. Hence the cycle begins! In time, the body builds tolerance and so to compensate and stay in that euphoric state – we smoke more and more.
With this awareness, one may ask why smoking tobacco is not banned or illegal? The fact is, the tobacco industry is a multi-billion dollar business that has great influences in the society and its issues. Every time, this concern comes up and public awareness increases – the industry ropes alcohol and other major industries such as coffee into the debate and foils the attempt to shut it down. The tobacco industry has sought repeatedly to build direct or indirect alliances with the alcohol industry and to use their financial resources and lobbying power in the policy arena. To oppose cigarette tax increases, which the public generally supports, the tobacco industry broadened the cigarette tax issue to include alcoholic beverages and other consumer goods (Jiang & Ling, 2013).
Another interesting medical fact about tobacco smoking (addiction)is that, long term, it changes the DNA structure therefore there is the tendency of new generation being born to be genetically predisposed. According to an article in Addiction magazine, by comparing concordance rates for being a current or former smoker versus a never smoker, one can estimate the genetic contribution to smoking initiation. Such comparisons suggest that genetic contributions to smoking initiation are substantial, and broadly comparable to other psychiatric phenotypes such as depression (Munaf & Johnstone, 2008). This is because nicotine is a drug and therefore chemically powerful enough to deconstruct our bodies’ blueprint which is DNA. It is this same blueprint that our children inherit. It is scary to think of the impact that smoking has on the world at large. That is why we have to keep this conversation going.
Rhode Island Department of Health helpline:
Offering quit support via 1-800-QUIT-NOW and QuitNowRI. (Let us offer support to one another, refer a loved one to this helpline to help them quit smoking).
Jiang, N., & Ling, P. (2013). Vested Interests in Addiction Research and Policy. Alliance between tobacco and alcohol industries to shape public policy. Addiction, 108(5), 852-864.
Munaf, M. R., & Johnstone, E. C. (2008). Genes and cigarette smoking. Addiction, 103(6), 893-904.
Rosenberg, L. (2013). A Shared Struggle with Tobacco Addiction. Journal Of Behavioral Health Services & Research, 40(2), 137-139.