Why people smoke

There are many theories explaining why people start smoking. Curiosity, rebelliousness and an assertion of independence have all been given as reasons. Psychologists sometimes say that children smoke because they associate cigarettes with adulthood and social and sexual success.

Many smokers claim that tobacco helps them cope with difficult situations and that it enables them to manage their relationships with people more effectively. Psychologists confirm that to some extent by pointing out that smokers are usually searching for love, attention and support and that the appearance of independence and virility common among smokers in advertisements is, in fact, an entirely false one. Smokers are in reality sensitive people with only a thin veneer of sophistication and worldliness. Put at its simplest a packet of cigarettes gives the shy and uncertain individual an opportunity to make friends and meet people; it also gives him something to do with his hands!

Although all this is conjecture what is certain is that once having started smoking most people find it difficult to give up. Of current addicts less than 15% will manage to stop smoking permanently. For smokers cigarettes are a habit and a crutch. The cigarette enables the smoker to stay calm when he might otherwise panic. And, even more important, it prevents the unwelcome discomforts of not smoking. That surely is the key to the whole problem. Giving up smoking can be difficult. The smoker who abandons, or tries to abandon, his habit may become restless, tense, irritable, unable to concentrate and desperate for a’fix’.

The hazards of smoking

Most smokers know, of course, that their habit is damaging their health. Most would be happy to give it up if they could. Since I find it difficult to avoid a little preaching here those who know all about the dangers of smoking can miss this section if they like. I’m including the sermon because it has been established beyond reasonable doubt that the most effective way to persuade people to stop smoking is to explain to them the hazards associated with the dreadful habit. So here goes.

Smoking is associated with lung cancer, bronchitis and all sorts of chest infection. Nicotine increases the heart rate and the blood pressure and puts a strain on the heart. Smoking is therefore responsible for many heart attacks and strokes each year.

Below the age of forty-five smokers are fifteen times more likely to have heart disease than are non-smokers. Cigarettes also have a bad effect on the stomach, both helping to produce ulcers and preventing the healing of existing ones. Arteries in the limbs are also damaged by cigarettes.

The Royal College of Surgeons in Britain has estimated that habitual smokers who smoke twenty cigarettes a day lose a minute of their lives for every minute they spend smoking. Put bluntly that means that a smoker who goes through a pack of twenty every day will live five years less than someone who doesn’t smoke at all. Something like 40% of smokers can expect to die as a direct result of their addiction. And their final years are more likely to be painful and uncomfortable.

Smokers sometimes complain that they have known heavy smokers who have not had any trouble at all from their habit (smokers call it a habit, non-smokers call it an addiction). They also point out that non-smokers get lung cancer and heart disease!

This is rather like arguing that because some people have survived car crashes without injury there is no need to avoid serious car crashes. It is, I am afraid, one time when statistics have to be taken seriously.

A reassuring contradiction

Having completed the obligatory sermon I feel bound to admit that there is an opposing argument that deserves an airing. It doesn’t often get heard.

The fact is that just about each one of us needs a crutch of some kind. Some people lean on cigarettes, others on alcohol, others on Valium and so on. There are people who lean on other people – causing them all sorts of heartaches. And all crutches are potentially dangerous. The man who condemns cigarette smoking may be an alcoholic.

I mention this because smoking cigarettes is bad enough. Smoking cigarettes and feeling guilty about it produces more stress, more heart disease and more illness than just smoking!

Giving up smoking

You can’t buy the one thing you really need to give up smoking. And that is determination. If you really want to give up smoking then you’ll probably manage it. If you aren’t convinced, or certain, then you’ll probably fail.

Having said that I have to add that there are many things that you can buy or do to help yourself give up smoking. And anything which helps is worthwhile.

Smokers with an economical mind will find that it helps to write down each day just how much money they have spent. It is astonishing to see just how much money is spent in a month and a year. By the end of a month many smokers will have frightened themselves into abstinence.

Another method is to change the brand of cigarette smoked every day. This makes life difficult and it makes smoking less pleasant. And it’s easier to follow than giving up altogether. If you add to the problems by always buying from a different shop, buying only one pack at a time and buying in packs often, smoking will become quite a bore.

The best method that I’ve found for patients is the one which simply helps people govern their smoking habit bit by bit. This helps because it enables them to ease themselves out of the habit gradually instead of all at once.

To begin with, cut out smoking during working hours. Then stop smoking at mealtimes. Do not smoke while watching television. After a few days make sure that you do not smoke when doing anything else at all. Give up smoking in the car or on the bus. On a train or aeroplane book a seat in a non-smoking compartment.

A variation on this technique is to give up smoking room by room at home. One day swear to yourself that you will never smoke in the bedroom again. On the next day give up smoking in the bathroom. Go through the whole house room by room and soon you’ll be reduced to standing on the doorstep smoking a furtive cigarette and trying to escape your own eagle eye. At that stage giving up is a relief.

There are, of course, many people prepared to take money off you as you give up smoking. The confectioners tell you to suck peppermints; hypnotists claim that they can help; and there are people making special anti-smoking drugs. Of all the methods which are available one of the most effective, according to the World Health Organization, is the placebo – an ordinary sugar pill which helps people by making them think it’s helping them and which has no side effects of its own. Since the placebo depends on a certain amount of suggestion I doubt if you can successfully ‘con’ yourself into giving up smoking with a self-prescribed placebo. But it may be worth a try.

The commercial products on the market are undoubtedly helped by this universal effect. Here is a list of some. Nicobrevin Anti-Smoking Capsules contain menthyl valerianate, quinine, camphor and eucalyptus oil. Formula 7 Anti-Smoking Aid is a mouthwash containing silver nitrate and peppermint oil. Heatb and Heather’s Anti-Smoking Tablets contain lobelia, kola, quassia and magnesium trisilicate. Lobidan tablets contain lobeline sulphate which has a similar action to nicotine. If you believe in any one of these ‘cures’ then try it.