Why Smoking is So Popular
DESPITE health warnings and antismoking campaigns, smoking is still very popular. In fact, many persons smoke more than they did before.
From 1965 to 1978, the number of cigarettes used in the United States leaped by nearly 90,000,000,000, yet the number of smokers remained about the same. Why the increased consumption by those who smoke?
Nicotine and Tar Content
The reduced content of nicotine and tar in cigarettes is apparently a factor. Nicotine, an important ingredient of smoking tobacco, is a poisonous drug used commercially in insecticides. And tar is the particulate matter of the smoke, also called “the sticky residue of tobacco smoke.” Because nicotine and tar are dangerous to health, tobacco companies have been cutting down on the amounts in their cigarettes. With what results?
One is that smokers tend to smoke more cigarettes. “In preliminary experiments,” reports Medical World News, “seven heavy cigarette smokers smoked an average of 25% more cigarettes per day when shifted to a low-nicotine brand.” Dr. Stanley Schachter, who conducted the experiments, therefore concludes that “the campaign for low-nicotine cigarettes is misguided.”
But why are more cigarettes smoked when the nicotine and tar levels are lower? In particular, it is to satisfy the smoker’s craving for nicotine—to get the amount to which he has been accustomed. The nicotine reaches the brain within a few seconds after the smoker inhales. So each puff, Dr. Michael A. H. Russell explains, represents a unit dose of nicotine. It is, he says in Drug Metabolism Reviews (1978), like getting an injection of heroin.
A heroin addict may go several hours before he craves another injection. After smoking a cigarette, it takes about 20 to 30 minutes for the nicotine to dissipate from the brain to other organs. That is about the time lag between cigarettes for heavy smokers—when another “injection” of nicotine is needed.
Yet is it fair to compare the craving for a cigarette to that for heroin? Is nicotine really addictive?
Is Smoking an Addiction?
Commonly, persons say they smoke because it relaxes them, relieves stress and makes them feel calm. But experiments show that, rather than actually relaxing the smoker, smoking simply enables the smoker to ward off adverse withdrawal symptoms.
This fact was revealed when both nonsmokers and smokers were exposed to stressful situations. Smokers who smoked high-nicotine cigarettes fared better in such situations than when they smoked low-nicotine cigarettes or none at all. But they fared neither better nor worse than nonsmokers in the same situations. The conclusion: “Smoking doesn’t make a smoker less irritable or vulnerable to annoyance,” Dr. Schachter said. However, he added, “not smoking or insufficient nicotine makes him more irritable.”
Just as a heroin addict needs heroin to ward off irritability and other such symptoms, so a smoker needs his nicotine for a similar reason.
Cigarette smoking is now considered by authorities to be a form of addiction. According to the report Smoking or Health by the British Royal College of Physicians, it “is a form of drug dependence different from but no less strong than that of other addictive drugs.” The report concludes: “Most smokers continue to indulge in the habit because they are addicted to nicotine.”
Dr. M. A. H. Russell, on the basis of considerable research, states plainly: “If it were not for nicotine in tobacco smoke, people would be little more inclined to smoke cigarettes than to blow bubbles or light sparklers.” Although other factors may also be involved in making the habit so entrenched, obviously many smokers are physically addicted. This is evidenced by their agony when they go without cigarettes. Describing his withdrawal, Budd Whitebook wrote in Harper’s magazine:
“My body was sicker than I thought it could be. The joints in my arms and shoulders and the muscles in my chest and my calves hurt so badly the first night I hid in the dark and cried. That pain lasted only one day, but for at least a week I was always aching somewhere. My mouth, nose, throat, stomach, and each tooth were deprived of smoke and nicotine, and their reactions lasted much longer. I kept arching my mouth wide open as if adjusting cheap store-bought teeth. My throat was sore as if I had smoked too much, perhaps from inhaling too hard on an absent cigarette. I blew my nose needlessly. It is staggering how many parts of me—phalange, organ, membrane, and hair—wanted a smoke, each in its own sore way. For two full weeks I was nauseated.”
‘Isn’t it criminal,’ you may ask, ‘to promote a habit that is so addictive and harmful to health?’ Why is it done?
Anything for Money
Even persons considered kind and respectable are known to do practically anything for money. Yes, they will even kill. Governments at times go to war, sacrificing many lives, in order selfishly to protect economic interests. Could there be a parallel with the promotion of cigarette smoking?
The Medical Tribune states: “Cigarettes are one of the major causes of death in the United States, yet most governmental bodies have repeatedly demonstrated an unwillingness to protect the public or, worse than that, act to aggravate a malignant situation through subsidies to tobacco growers.”
The New York Daily News said: “The government’s attitude toward tobacco is a study in hypocrisy. . . . it has provided tobacco price supports since 1938, steadily increasing the amount to the present $65 million, including an allotment of $24 million in loans for shipment of tobacco to underprivileged nations under the Food for Peace program.”
The U.S. government reaps billions of dollars annually from taxes on cigarettes. But thousands of citizens also profit from tobacco. In the United States alone, the smoking habit provides a living for some 450,000 tobacco-farm families and 72,700 workers in the cigarette industry. “If we done away with this tobacco,” exclaimed one grower, “we’d all be on the welfare and the food stamps. The small farmer can’t make it on corn and soybeans.”
Yet adjustments can be made, and people can make a living in other ways. Some years ago all of Jehovah’s Witnesses who were in any way connected with the tobacco business got completely out of it. They could see how inconsistent it was for a Christian to provide a product that, according to medical evidence, “is responsible every year for more deaths than the American battlefield tolls in World War II, Korea and Vietnam combined.”
But some persons may say: ‘A smoker is only hurting himself. Why prohibit a product from which people feel they derive pleasure?’
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Just as a heroin addict needs heroin to ward off irritability . . . . . . so a smoker needs nicotine for a similar reason