Tobacco smoking is the process of burning the tobacco plant (one or more of leaves, stems and roots) and inhaling the resulting particles within the smoke.  It’s been estimated that tobacco smoking began as long ago as 5000 BC in South America, but wasn’t exported to Eurasia until the 16th century.  Tobacco has been used in the past for medicinal purposes, but as early as the 1920’s a link was identified between smoking and cancer by German scientists.  This link was further confirmed by British scientists in 1950, and the U.S. Surgeon General began to make the same claims in the 1964 Report on Smoking and Health.  There are over 2,000 chemicals and components in tobacco smoke, and it is estimated that 68 of them are cancer causing.  The tobacco plant also contains nicotine, which is a highly addictive drug.  Nicotine is the agent in tobacco and cigarette smoke that leads to addiction, but the resulting psychological aspects of the experience greatly reinforce the continued desire to smoke.  Nicotine has been described by the U.S. National Institute of Health as “one of the most heavily used addictive drugs and the leading preventable cause of disease, disability and death in the U.S.”

Recent studies by the NIH suggest that nicotine is actually a “gateway” drug that leads to an increased likelihood of illicit drug use and addiction, by increasing the effect of drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and marijuana.  In the long run, nicotine forms in the user a strong physical and psychological dependence. Dependence is strongest when tobacco smoke is inhaled into the lungs and with time it increases the speed and quantity of nicotine absorption.

What is the difference between physiological and psychological addiction? Physiological addiction occurs when an individual is addicted to a substance (nicotine) on which the body has grown dependent. When a person stops taking the chemical substance, symptoms of withdrawal, the body’s way of responding to the cessation, occur by stating, “Hey, what did you do? I need more of what you’ve been taking.” Withdrawal can result in a variety of real physical symptoms such as rapid heart rate, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pains. Tolerance is often seen in long term addiction. Tolerance is the body’s need to acquire more of the substance in order to reach a particular level of relaxation or “high,” and it doesn’t matter if the substance is alcohol or tobacco or other form of drug.

Psychological addiction occurs when the individual may or may not be physically addicted to a substance, but craves the related environmental effects.  These effects are the “source” or the “habit” of repeated behavior that relieves or decreases severe anxiety and stress.  In the instance of smoking, the psychological addiction is the physical act of smoking and the act of smoking as part of a daily routine or pattern (i.e. first cigarette of the day, smoking after a meal, with alcohol, etc).  Despite the impact on work and relationships, individuals typically will go to great lengths to calm the severe stress and anxiety that occurs with the absence of the substance or associated behavior to which they are addicted.

The First Cigarette

It is the entire experience of smoking that reinforces the desire to smoke again, and it all starts with the first cigarette.  The human body is a very complex structure and provides some built in systems that provide us with some help. There are five traditional human senses – taste, smell, sight, hearing and touch.  We often add memory as a sixth sense. Why are these important as it relates to smoking?  Each of these senses provides us a mechanism from which to tell pleasure from danger, good from bad, etc.  How do these related to smoking?

A smokers’ memory of the ‘first cigarette’ places this as high as any particular aspect in their life. Ask any smoker if they remember that first smoke and 98 of 100 will say yes. So what is that experience?   Taking the cigarette out of the pack and inhaling the tobacco aroma — in most cases it is pleasant enough go to step 2 — placing it in your mouth — tasting the unlit tobacco flavor is still mostly pleasant so we continue to step 3 — lighting up! Whoa! What happened to all the good stuff I was just feeling? We inhale — intense heat goes into the mouth and into the throat and it seems you can feel the heat all the way into your lungs and you are on fire. This is followed simultaneously by severe coughing, dizziness and watery eyes. Starting to bring back memories?

We take puff number 2, 3, 4, etc. When that first smoke is finished, we stink, are sweating and shaking a little bit and we say wow, how about another. If one looks back and seriously reflects on this, is this not a true contradiction of our senses. Every one of our senses is telling us no and we ignore them totally.

Now fast forward “X” number of years that we have been smoking and what is our reflection — for most smokers it is one of “why did I ever smoke that second cigarette” and the answer still evades us. The addiction, the rank smell, the offensive smoke, smoking bans, cigarette taxes, etc.   None contribute to a positive aspect of smoking. So what do we do about cutting back and perhaps quitting altogether?

Medical research has proven that smoking is a major contributing factor towards many human health problems such as cancer, emphysema, cardiovascular disease and other disorders.  Even nicotine without the tobacco is known to adversely affect 8 different body systems of organs, including the brain, lungs, blood system, muscles, endocrine system and gastro-intestinal tract to name a few.  If you sit to jot down the effects of smoking you are sure to come up with all the negative things. It is a habit which makes the smoker its slave. Once acquired it is hard to quit and once quit is easy to regain.