It is safe to say that most people who smoke regret ever starting. Where did cigarettes come from, how bad are they for us, and why are they so hard to give up?
There is evidence that ancient civilizations in the Americas used organic tobacco plant medicinally and for spiritual ceremony 12,000 years ago. Once the cigarette companies commercialized tobacco, it was considered a ‘Cure All’ and doctors promoted it for everyone, even pregnant women. In the past 40-50 years, we’ve learned how harmful smoking truly is. The links to cancer, heart and lung disease, and early death are undisputable. Smoking directly contributes to the death of 8 million people worldwide every year. This is a preventable epidemic in its own right. There have been regulations put in place to control advertising to youth, and even though Canadian cigarette sales have declined drastically since the sixties, many people still choose to start smoking.
Sadly, the majority of the new smokers are adolescents even though it is illegal to sell to minors. Why do children turn to cigarettes? Insecurity, peer pressure and wanting to fit in to a social circle where others smoke may be a factor. Thinking it’s badass or edgy and using smoking as a way to be rebellious may be a factor. Teens don’t think about the warnings “it isn’t good for you” – they are impervious and invincible without acknowledging the fact that decisions they make today can affect their physical and mental health years down the road. Sadly 60 per cent of adolescents who start smoking will continue the habit into their adult life. If their parents smoke, children are much more likely to pick up the habit.
Why are cigarettes so addictive? Nicotine is an addictive component in tobacco but organic tobacco products are not nearly as addictive as the manufactured cigarettes, which contain up to 600 added ingredients. As a cigarette burns, it also emits over 7,000 toxic chemicals, of which many are known to cause cancer. The smoker inhales these chemicals and those in the vicinity breathe them in through secondhand smoke.
Tobacco companies use the 600 additives to make the cigarettes taste better, increase the absorption rate of nicotine (to increase the addictive nature of the cigarette), and make them smoother on the throat, just to name a few intentions.
The most dangerous of the additives and the chemicals that occur when a cigarette is burned include: ammonia and propylene glycol (both used to increase absorption rate of nicotine in the brain and therefore increase the addictiveness); acetone (found in nail polish remover), arsenic (rat poison), benzene (found in gasoline and rubber cement), butane (used in lighter fluid), cadmium (found in battery acid), carbon monoxide (car exhaust), formaldehyde (embalmer), hexamine (found in BBQ lighter fluid), methanol (found in rocket fuel), naphthalene (an ingredient in mothballs), tar (used in road paving), toluene (in paint), turpentine (paint thinner), the heavy metals lead and nickel (used in batteries)… to name a few. Sugar (for flavour and to increase nicotine potency) creates toxic aldehydes when burned and increases risks of cardiac disease, pulmonary disease, and cancer.
We all know cigarettes are harmful and may contribute to long-term health issues like heart and lung disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), stroke, diabetes, and premature death etc., but smoking also has many negative mental health effects. Tobacco addiction causes shame and feelings of social judgment as well as agitation when one feels the urge to smoke or are in withdrawal. People who smoke cigarettes tend to have higher levels of anxiety and depression.
Sadly, many of the people who are addicted to smoking cannot afford this habit. In my opinion, capitalizing on susceptible people with such an addictive man-made substance is no better than drug dealing – profit is the only thing that seems to matter and increasing the addiction raises the bottom line. It is shameful that this can even be legal.
Support for quitting is readily available, through mental health agencies, doctors, naturopaths, counselors, social media, and community groups. Check out online resources like https://quitnow.ca/.
Claire Nielsen is a health coach, author, public speaker and founder of www.elixirforlife.ca. The information provided in the above article is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional health and medical advice. Please consult a doctor or healthcare provider if you're seeking medical advice, diagnoses and/or treatment.