Smokers can find many reasons to light up; there is a definite sense of pleasure that they receive from inhaling on a cigarette, pipe, or cigar. The high that they receive is caused by a sudden release of endorphins in the brain that tells them that this experience feels good. It doesn’t matter if you tell them that with each puff their brain is lying to them; rather than making them feel good, they are taking in a bit of methane, arsenic, methanol, and a host of other harsh and dangerous chemicals. They still have to have it. So, the question that many non-smokers ask is: Why do so many smokers have such a hard time trying to quit this habit?
The truth is that it is not a matter of knowledge; the dangers of smoking have been known for well over 60 years. Just like any other dangerous drug, it’s the addiction that keeps so many people coming back for more. Those who are truly addicted will reach for their cancer sticks as soon as they wake-up, take a break from work, when they are under stress, with their morning cup of coffee and any other excuse they could find throughout the course of the day. It’s a true nicotine addiction.
The statistics are staggering. According to the How Stuff Works, Health Division, it points out that,
Two-thirds of adult smokers who wish they could quit say they aren’t able to. It shouldn’t be a surprise that only 1 in 10 smokers can kick the habit. A startling 50 percent of people who have surgery for lung cancer recover and reach for the pack again.
To better understand this phenomenon, let’s take a brief look at the history of nicotine use through time:
People have been consuming nicotine for thousands of years, even before they knew what it was. Long before Camel Joe or the Marlboro Man became household names, it was being used as a medicine among the native peoples of the Americas. As written in Toxipedia by Katarina Lah,
South American temple carvings show Mayan priests enjoying the benefits of this drug from smoking tobacco through a pipe. Tobacco appears to be part of the healing arts and sacred rituals of many of the native peoples of the Americas.
This practice continued for at least 2,000 years, and anthropologists believe it could have been considerably longer, but it didn’t spread to the rest of the world until the Europeans began their campaign of colonizing in the 1600s.
Interestingly enough, almost from the moment tobacco began to spread around the world, medical professionals suspected that smoking was a dangerous habit, but it took several hundred years for modern medicine to provide enough evidence to support their assumptions and even longer for the government to step in and warn the people. By that time, millions of people had succumbed to the addiction, and when they tried to quit they found the task well beyond their immediate means.
Why So Hard to Quit?
There are many reasons why breaking away from nicotine is so difficult. When you inhale tobacco smoke, it takes less than 10 seconds for the nicotine to reach your brain where a hormone called dopamine is released that tells you that you’re feeling good. The specific pathways that are involved are located very near to the brain stem where your memory functions are stored, so you’ll never forget that rush you get when those hormones are released. Then the nicotine goes to work on increasing your endorphin levels; those are proteins that make you feel euphoric.
One might at this point wonder why the Native Americans who had been smoking tobacco for centuries did not experience the same addictive habits as others when they began smoking. After all, nicotine is a naturally occurring part of the tobacco plant. The answer to this question is very simple; when they began to mass-produce cigarettes, manufacturers began adding sugar to the combination. Loz Blain of Gizmag.com explains what happens this way,
Nicotine causes the body to release satisfying levels of sugar into the bloodstream far faster than eating can, which explains its appetite-inhibiting effects….when nicotine molecules are received by neurotransmitter membranes, it’s sugar molecules then act as a sort of hinge to open a gate in the cell membranes and send the “nicotine rush” nerve signal onward.
As the sugar is burned, it produces a new chemical called acetaldehyde. When this combines with the nicotine, studies have shown that the desire for more is significantly enhanced.
Many people may be surprised to know that with each cigarette they smoke, they are not just getting the pure tobacco that has been around for centuries, but they are getting a gold concoction of tobacco with hundreds of different chemical additives to boot. In a report provided by the group, Quit Smoking Support, it says,
Cigarette smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals, including 43 known cancer-causing (carcinogenic) compounds and 400 other toxins. These include nicotine, tar, and carbon monoxide, as well as formaldehyde, ammonia, hydrogen cyanide, arsenic, and DDT.
It further explains that most of those chemicals that are being inhaled with each puff will remain in the lungs. The more a person takes in, the better he’s going to feel. By the time he reaches the last puff, he’s feeling pretty good.
The many ingredients added to each cigarette have been specifically chosen to either enhance your smoking experience or to keep you coming back for more. The addiction to smoking is not the result of humans consuming a natural product, but has been purposely created by design. Many of these additives are harsh chemicals that you would not normally even consider consuming; they are often used as ingredients in household and industrial cleaning products, and other ingredients are used as flavor enhancers so that you don’t notice the harshness.
There is more to a cigarette that many people could possibly imagine; In addition to the tobacco with the naturally occurring nicotine, you are inhaling a stockpile of other harmful things as well.