It only took 15 years for Europe to become addicted to smoking
It took the next 400 years for us to understand how harmful it was
Tobacco first arrived in France from America in 1556, and by 1571 had spread to all parts of Europe. Perhaps that should have given us a clue as to how addictive smoking was. But it was only in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s that health officials began to link tobacco smoking with health issues.
On January 11, 1964, the US Surgeon General released his landmark report on 'Smoking and Health' which hit the country, and the world like a bombshell. Its principal findings were:
Since the first ground breaking report 50 years ago, much has changed
- A 70% increase in the mortality rates of smokers over non smokers
- Smokers had a ten fold increased risk of developing lung cancer, while heavy smokers had a twenty fold increase
- Smoking was a main cause of chronic bronchitis
- Smoking was linked to emphysema
- Smoking was linked to coronary heart disease
- Smoking during pregnancy led to newborn infants of lower birth weight
Our understanding of cigarette smoking and its dangers, as well as the addictive power of nicotine have developed. Now every primary school student can tell you that smoking is “yuck”, and will challenge any smoker about why they are smoking. Clearly, the education campaigns are working.
We still have a way to go
- In the early 1980s, 34% of the population smoked. This is now at 19%;
- Amongst 12 to 17 year olds, the percentage has fallen from 19% in 1999 to 7.3% in 2008;
- Currently 73% of these students have never even smoked one cigarette.
While there is plenty of good news regarding reduced numbers of smokers, almost 300 people per week still die as a direct result of smoking related health issues. This statistic demonstrates that we must avoid complacency at all costs.
Why is it so hard for us to kick the habit?
Everyone knows cigarette smoke causes cancer. So why do people keep smoking? Nicotine. It's incredibly addictive, actually one of the most addictive substances around. Nicotine is the reason people keep smoking, and continue to expose their bodies to the harmful effects of tobacco smoke. These two factors, nicotine, and the damaging effects of smoking, form a lethal combination.
How nicotine keeps you smoking
If you're addicted to nicotine, and you haven't smoked for a little while, your body starts to experience withdrawal symptoms. These are mild, but they're real. And not very pleasant. That's why you sometimes hear people say "I really need a cigarette". Except it's not a cigarette they need. It's nicotine. And the cigarette is the perfect delivery vehicle.
Smoking tricks your body into thinking it needs nicotine
After just one inhalation, it takes the nicotine between 10 and 20 seconds to travel from our lungs to our brains. This is even faster than if it were given by intravenous injection. As soon as it hits the right receptors, the withdrawal symptoms go away, and people feel good again. Smoking creates a false need for nicotine. Once you've quit, that need goes away.
We can replace the source of nicotine with something less harmful
We are finding out more and more about how nicotine affects our brains, and that information allows us to develop new products to help counteract the addiction process. If we reduce, then withdraw cigarette-based nicotine from our blood stream, for example with an alternative like gum or patches, then our bodies will not be exposed to the harmful effects of tobacco smoke. Then we can focus on just beating the nicotine addiction.
You'll have a lot of support
From your own family doctor, to support groups at work, and of course the Quit Campaign, there are people to rally behind you. The support of family and friends is essential for that person who wishes to quit. And most people do want to quit. In fact, the vast majority of current smokers tell us they wish they'd never started smoking in the first place.
Quitting is the single biggest thing you can do for your health“World No Tobacco Day” is on the 31st May and this is a great time to
quit the tools and support are there. As I tell my patients, it will be the single best thing you've ever done for your health in your entire life.
For more information:
National Quit Campaign
Cancer Council WA