The Tragic Tobacco Story

The economic costs of tobacco use are equally devastating. In addition to the high public health costs of treating tobacco-caused diseases, tobacco kills people at the height of their productivity, depriving families of breadwinners and nations of a healthy workforce. Tobacco users are also less productive while they are alive due to increased sickness.

A report in 1994 estimated that the use of tobacco resulted in an annual global net loss of a staggering US$200 billion, a third of this loss being developing countries.

Nicotine, a powerful central nervous system stimulant found naturally in the tobacco leaf, is classified as a drug. Nicotine is one of the main ingredients in tobacco. In higher doses, nicotine is extremely poisonous. It is commonly used as an insecticide.

Tobacco leaves can be burned and inhaled (in the form of cigarettes, cigars, pipes, smoke, etc.) or absorbed through the mouth (in the form of spit tobacco, chew of snuff).

The membranes in the nose, mouth and lungs act as nicotine delivery systems – transporting nicotine into the blood and to the brain.

If current smoking patterns continue, it will cause some 10 million deaths each year by 2020. Half the people that smoke today – that is about 650 million people – will eventually be killed by tobacco.

Why Nicotine Is So Addictive?

Cigarettes are highly efficient nicotine delivery devices and are as addictive as drugs such as heroin or cocaine. Unlike cocaine, heroin or alcohol abuse, the more dangerous effects of tobacco use are not obvious in the beginning.

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Nicotine are highly addictive. The addictive effect of nicotine is the main reason why tobacco is widely used.

Stopping can produce unpleasant withdrawal symptoms including depression, insomnia, irritability, difficulty concentrating, restlessness, anxiety, decreased heart rate, increased appetite, weight gain and craving for nicotine.

Symptoms peak from 24 to 48 hours after stopping and can last from three days up to four weeks, although the craving for a cigarette can last for two months.

Most smokers made an average of three or four quit attempts before becoming long-term nonsmokers.

Relapse is the rule rather than the exception and must be viewed as part of the process of quitting.

Surveys have shown that the majority of smokers (around 70%) want to stop smoking yet the successful quit rate remains very low. About 20% or less of those who embark on a course of treatment succeed in abstaining for as long as a year, while only around 3% succeed in quitting using willpower alone.

Most smokers take several attempts to quit before they finally succeed. The power of addiction is also demonstrated by the fact that some smokers are reluctant to stop smoking even after undergoing surgery for smoking-induced diseases.

Around 40% of those who have had a laryngectomy try smoking soon afterwards, while about 50% of lung cancer patients resume smoking after undergoing surgery.

The addictive effect of nicotine is linked to its capacity to trigger the release of dopamine – a chemical in the brain that is associated with feelings of pleasure.

However, recent research has suggested that in the long term, nicotine depresses the ability of the brain to experience pleasure.

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Thus, smokers need greater amounts of the drug to achieve the same levels of satisfaction. Smoking is therefore a form of self-medication: further smoking alleviates the withdrawal symptoms, which set in soon after the effects of nicotine wear off.

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