It’s the advice we hear from cradle to grave these days, from teachers, parents, the media, and everyone in between. So why is it that so many people still smoke in spite of all the warning and pleading not to? Why do so many people ignore the obvious health risks to continue an expensive and potentially deadly habit? It’s a complex question, but we think we’ve wrapped our heads around it. The reasons can essentially be broken down into why people start smoking and why they continue smoking.
Why People Start Smoking
Many people begin smoking when they are teenagers. There are several reasons for this:
1) The desire to look cool
By far the biggest reason people start smoking is the desire to look cool. To a twelve-to-sixteen-year-old kid without much life experience, smoking a cigarette feels like a cool, “mature” thing to do. This is especially true if most of the adults in his or her life (parents, relatives, bosses at work, etc.) smoke cigarettes and have for most of their lives. Teenagers are still creatures of imitations, and if they perceive cigarette smoking as the “adult” thing to do, they will do it.
2) Peer pressure
Another reason people start smoking is peer pressure. While everyone responds to peer pressure differently, most kids are highly susceptible to its influences when they are in their early teens. This is when they care more about the opinions of their friends than anything else and will do almost anything to stay in their friends’ good graces. Sadly, this can lead to things even worse than cigarette smoking, such as vandalism or hardcore drug abuse.
Between the ages of twelve and sixteen, kids also really begin to push the envelope in terms of rules and social boundaries. One way of doing this is to smoke cigarettes despite – or perhaps because of – pleas to the contrary. Kids are probably more likely to smoke if this pleading comes in the form of demanding (e.g., “you had BETTER not smoke!”) than if it comes in the form of calm, rational explanations (e.g., “we can’t follow you around and stop you, but we want you to know the health risks”).
4) Poor coping skills
Some people begin smoking to numb their stress, which cigarettes are quite good at doing in the short-term. A teenager or adult with poorly developed coping skills, who has not learned proper strategies for solving life problems and dealing with stress, is more apt to start smoking than someone who has learned such strategies. Unfortunately, such people often truly don’t know any better, and are just trying to feel better as best they know how.
5) Social habit became addiction
Still other people began smoking socially (at parties, after going out to eat, etc.) with no intention of becoming addicted. They may have started by only smoking cigarettes that addicted smokers offered to them in social situations, justifying it with statements like “well, as long as I’m not buying my own and smoking all the time, it’s okay.” While some people can pull this off, others cannot, and for them social smoking is just a greased chute leading to full-blown addiction.
Why People Continue Smoking
Addictions that began in teenage years or early adulthood can continue long after, or even forever. Here’s why:
1) The physical addiction
The most obvious reason people continue smoking is the physical addiction cigarettes induce. They are addictive because of nicotine, a substance that is completely harmless by itself but which makes you crave the cigarette as a whole. However, the physical addiction is not the inescapable demon some people make it out to be. The nicotine is actually completely out of your system in 72 hours once you stop smoking. The real beast seems to be…
2) The mental addiction
The mental addiction is what smokers really struggle with. For even once the nicotine has left the bloodstream and their bodies no longer crave more, they still feel compelled to smoke in situations they once did. For example, any smoker will tell you how hard it is to not have the “after meal” cigarette following breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Other people find it impossible not to smoke while working, before going to bed, or upon waking up. Breaking these habits is often much more difficult than fighting through the brief physical cravings.
An offshoot of the mental addiction is often how addicted smokers rely on cigarettes to cope with stress. In general, the longer you have been smoking, the harder time you will have not smoking during times of stress. You have simply become accustomed to lighting up and calming your nerves as a way of feeling better in emotionally charged or stressful situations. And once this becomes an ingrained habit, it can be excruciatingly hard to stop. If you smoke to get rid of stress, stop now! It’ll never be easier and will, in fact, become much harder.
4) Being around people who smoke
Few things are more frustrating to a smoker trying to quit than being around people who smoke. If you have friends, family members, or co-workers lighting up around you all day, it can be easy to slip up and have “just one more.” The worst situation is when a person’s friends don’t respect their wishes to quit and continue enabling them by giving them cigarettes to smoke. If this is your situation, take steps to change it. Try to avoid contact with people who smoke (at least while they’re smoking), and tell your friends you are dead serious about stopping.
5) Relying on pills and patches instead of willpower
Most doctors (and former smokers) will tell you that you cannot quit until you really, truly don’t want to smoke cigarettes anymore. They are right. Today’s generation of smokers has been led to believe they can break their addiction by using nicotine patches and medications that supposedly eliminate cravings. And in certain situations, these things might even have some value. But if you’re just quitting to please your parents or spouse, for example, they are not likely to be of much help. The only way you will stop is if you decide smoking isn’t good and make it a personal imperative to stop doing it.
By Neil Smith