Cigarettes Why Do People Smoke?


This is the process by which the pattern of mortality and disease is transformed from one of high mortality among infants and children and episodic famine and epidemic affecting all age groups to one of degenerative and human-caused made diseases (such as those attributed to smoking) affecting principally the elderly or at least the adult (Pendell, 1996, p. 38).

Anti-smoking campaigns are often aimed at young people on the grounds that most people start smoking when they are teenagers, and so if teens can be prevented from starting to smoke then they are less likely to take up smoking later on (when they have better sense and a greater appreciation for mortality!). Of especial concern for anti-smoking advocates are teen mothers because their habit can affect not only themselves but their fetuses and children.

The population of teen mothers has been targeted by anti-smoking campaigns for a number of reasons. The first is the fact that while younger smokers are less concerned about the risks of smoking and less likely to believe that they themselves will be subject to these risks than are older smokers (who are indeed likely to believe that smoking causes lung cancer and heart disease), it has been shown by a number of researchers that the less long a person has been smoking in general the easier it is for that person to quit ( by virtue of their age, teenage smokers will have been smoking for a shorter period of time than older smokers, although of course this will not be universally true. A 60-year-old might well have taken up smoking the week before and a 16-year-old might have been smoking for three years, but in general teenagers have only been smoking for a few years.

Studies of ex-smokers show that their risk of dying from smoking-related disease decreases with each year of abstinence. Since the Surgeon General's report in 1964, the proportion of males who smoke has decreased from more than 50% to about 28% while the percentage of women who smoke has fallen from about 34% to 23%. By 1994 an estimated 46 million Americans had quit smoking cigarettes; there are now as many ex-smokers as there are active smokers (Jarvis, 1996, p. 19).

While it is possible for the body to repair 20 or 30 years' worth of damage to the lungs and other organs, it is easier by far for it to repair the damage done in two or three years' worth of smoking, and so while it is certainly better not to start smoking at all, it is better (once having started) to stop sooner than later. Smoking is a primary care measure; it effects all aspects of a person's health and so programs designed to intervene in smoking have very widespread benefits.

The second major reason that this particular population has been targeted is that smoking carries substantial risks to a fetus, and second-hand smoke carries substantial risks to infants. By targeting the teenage mother population, therefore, one may reduce at a single blow the risks of smoking to at least two and perhaps more (if the mother has more than one child) people at once. Young mothers, while often under terrible social and psychological stress and therefore likely to cling to smoking, are also in some key ways vulnerable to intervention. While they may not feel able to quit smoking for themselves, they may be able to summon the will power to do so if they are made aware of the effects of smoking on their child/ren.

And because teenage mothers interact with the medical establishment more frequently than do most teenagers and may also interact regularly with a number of social service agencies, they may be encouraged and supported to quit smoking by a range of health and social service professionals who interact with them on a regular basis, providing the kind of support to quit smoking that is essential for any person trying to break free of the strength of tobacco addiction.

Drug Addiction Like Any Other

The reason that people become addicted to drugs are complex, having to do with educational background, social status, gender, race, personal experiences. There is no single cause or reason for drug addiction any more than there is any one cause or reason that some people do not take drugs.

However, when we turn from the psychological and social reasons that people take drugs to the purely biological we see a much greater degree of similarity in the reasons that people take drugs - or at least why they continue to take drugs after an initial period of usage. For while people are very different from each other in psychological and motivational terms, when it comes down to brain chemistry we are in many ways very much the same.

Many - indeed most - of the most commonly taken recreational drugs have a similar effect on the brain (this is the case even though the effects that one experiences may be quite different from one another). The following summarizes the ways in which many drugs are different in their particulars but similar in their ultimate effect:

Tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, barbiturates, inhalants -- every abusable substance. We know a phenomenal amount. What we also know is that each of these drugs has its own receptor system -- its own mechanism of action. But in addition to having idiosyncratic mechanisms of action, each also has common mechanisms of action. That common mechanism of action is to cause the release of dopamine, a substance in the base of the brain, in what is actually a circuit called the mesolimbic reward pathway. That circuit has a neurochemical neurotransmitter, which is dopamine (

In other words, a number of the drugs that people take result in the end in an increased level of dopamine in the brain. To understand why this is important we must understand what dopamine itself is. Dopamine is a complex chemical of a class known as neurotransmitters.

As the name of this class of chemicals suggests, they are called neurotransmitters because each of the different chemicals in this class transports of transmits messages between different nerves within the brain. Dopamine (as is true of other neurotransmitters) is regularly sent from one nerve and received or captured by the receptor on another nerve cell. All nerve cells are specific to a certain kind of neurotransmitter. The receptors for dopamine are called dopamine receptors.

Dopamine, while it is free-floating and before it is trapped by a receptor produces feelings of well-being and pleasure. The use of certain drugs allows dopamine to remain free floating for longer because it tricks the neurotransmitters into believing that it is dopamine (Sell 1043).

One of the reasons that many drug users become habituated - become addicted, in other words, is that their brains come to depend upon the use of drugs to stimulate the release of dopamine. Another way of saying this is that their brains become essentially chemically too lazy to produce their own dopamine and begin to rely upon the dopamine triggered by drugs like cocaine.

This is true regardless of the psychological reasons why someone takes drugs. At some level, everyone who takes drugs (and this includes a number of legal drugs such as alcohol) is taking them because their brains want that "hit" of dopamine. The problem for drug users comes when their own brains become incapable - at least temporarily - of producing their own dopamine. Dopamine is a natural substance and is essential for a healthy brain; therefore when drug use interferes with the body's ability to produce dopamine there can be serious consequences.

Without proper levels of dopamine in the body, it is impossible to maintain proper motor control, for example. There are other, fundamentally serious problems associated with lowered dopamine levels, including Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia and depression.

People who have altered the natural equilibrium of their dopamine system by drug use have trouble feeling pleasure precisely because their dopamine systems are altered. This causes them to take more drugs so that they can feel pleasure, which further upsets the natural dopamine production mechanism, which entices people to take more drugs, etc. (Broers 336, Stewart 404). The effect is differentiated amongst different types of drugs. It is not clear whether the changes in brain chemistry of long-term drug use are necessarily permanent, but it is clear that the changes can be very long acting.

One of the reasons that it is so important for us to understand the ways in which the brain reacts to different types of drugs is that it may well provide doctors and other professional with the means to treat various drug addictions.

Difficulty Faced by Anti-Smoking Messages

Young people and especially teen mothers are important for anti-smoking programs to target because it seems clear that…