Cigarettes are the most common technique for consuming tobacco throughout the world. The consumer burns the dried plant leaves and during the combustion, the active substances vaporize and become contained in a mixture of aerosol particles and gasses which the user can then inhale. Once these particles are inhaled into the lungs, they are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and transported throughout the body, producing the well-known effects of tobacco consumption.
Besides smoking, chewing tobacco, and even making a snuff are still present in certain parts of the world, but cannot be compared to smoking when it comes to widespread use and prevalence. While these other routes of administration do protect the lungs from harmful and hot smoke particles, they still don’t do much to diminish the effects tobacco has on the organism as a whole. This is why all the risks associated with smoking are also present when it comes to chewing or snuffing tobacco, although the somewhat lower risk of lung cancer compared to smokers is replaced by a higher risk of oral and nasal cancers.
What’s on this page?
Historically, tobacco snuff was discovered before smoking and it was incorporated as such in the European societies, but quickly fell out fashion during the late 1700s when it was replaced by chewing and smoking tobacco. By that time, huge tobacco companies were already appearing in the colonial world and the tobacco epidemic started to take modern shape.
Smoking in the world today
Tobacco is a highly addictive substance, containing more than 4000 harmful compounds and around 70 cancer-causing chemicals. It’s been proven to lead to serious diseases and conditions which claim the lives of up to 50% of active smokers, at the same time contributing to the increased risk of disease in people who are exposed to second-hand smoke.
With these grim statistics in mind, it comes as no surprise that over the last couple of decades, the governments around the globe, and especially in developed countries tried to combat this public health epidemic through taxation and tobacco-related policies, targeted campaigns and laws prohibiting smoking in public places, or requiring that cigarette packs are sold with images graphically depicting the results of smoking, like yellow teeth or damaged lungs. These efforts contributed to the decreased prevalence of smoking in the developed world, most notably in the UK, EU and the USA. However, at the same time, the consumption of tobacco products is on the rise in the developing world and especially in the war-torn countries, throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
Maybe even more chilling fact is that among young teens aged from 13 to 15 years, globally, one in five smokes, with between 80.000 and 100.000 children smoking their first cigarette every day. It has been estimated that this group will continue to smoke for between 15 and 20 years, before successfully stopping. However, the diminishing prevalence of smoking in the older age groups proves that people do manage to quit this bad habit.
If you’re interested in learning more about tobacco facts and numbers that detail the extent of this public health epidemic, including the information about the revenues of the tobacco industry, you can visit our smoking statistics page and read more.
Risks and dangers
The years of studies and research paved the way for acquiring what is considered common knowledge today – the awareness of the direct link between tobacco consumption and numerous diseases and conditions, including very serious one like obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma and various forms of cancer.
The knowledge about the link between smoking and cancer is probably the most widespread in the general public, and with good reason. Due to the inherent lethality of this disease, this example emphasises, as none other, the fact that smoking kills. In fact, smoking has been determined to be the biggest preventable cause of death in the world. With more than 70 cancer-causing chemicals in the tobacco smoke, it significantly increases the risk of this disease both in active smokers and in people commonly exposed to second-hand smoke. To read more about how exactly does smoking contribute to cancer, you can check our smoking and cancer page, and on the other hand, for more info on the dangers of second-hand smoke, you can read the page dedicated to that topic.
Finally, for a general overview of risks and dangers, with links to relevant subpages and articles, check our dangers of smoking page.
With all these known dangers and risks, it comes as no surprise that more and more people are interested in quitting smoking for good and living healthy and smoke-free lives. However, quitting smoking is often easier said than done. Tobacco addiction is a rather serious addiction and it can be very hard to make a decision and simply stop. The nicotine cravings and withdrawal symptoms can be rather severe and can include anxiety, depression and restlessness, changes in appetite, sleep patterns and libido, nausea and many other unpleasant symptoms.
However, nicotine cravings often are the hardest thing to deal with. The desire to light up a cigarette and feel the nicotine rush is, for many, overwhelming and it can lead to the repeating cycle of trying to quit, failing, getting disappointed and continuing before the next attempt.
It is also very important to mention that nicotine addiction comes with two different aspects – physiological and psychological one. On one hand, there is the craving which is the result of body’s physical dependence on nicotine influx, and on the other there is the habit of holding a cigarette, inhaling smoke or simply smoking in some situations – while drinking coffee, waiting for a bus or at parties and other social events. However, both of these aspects can be traced to nicotinic receptors in the brain, closely related to dopamine receptors and transmitters which are responsible both for the rush smokers get from their nicotine fix, and for the sense of pleasure, safety and familiarity that stems from the identity of a smoker, or simply the act of smoking.
To learn more about different methods to quit smoking, you can visit our quit smoking page or if you’re in need of some inspiration on your quit smoking journey you can check out stop smoking success stories.
How to stop?
Despite the fact it is not easy, many people do manage to successfully quit after several attempts, some even at first one if they have enough willpower and determination. This method of quitting smoking is usually referred to as “quitting cold turkey” and it involves simply stopping, either suddenly or after slowly reducing the number of cigarettes before reaching the before set “quit day”.
However, for many people, quitting cold turkey is borderline impossible. Two scientifically sound and clinically tested alternatives include nicotine replacement therapies or NRTs for short and stop smoking tablets. NRTs work by letting patients tackle first their habit, and then their addiction. By supplying body via routes of administration different from smoking (like nicotine patches, lozenges or gums) these medications let patients slowly adjust to the fact that they aren’t lighting cigarettes anymore, while still getting their nicotine fix. Once the habit is sufficiently changed that patients feel confident about low possibility of a relapse, they can stop NRT and face the nicotine cravings and withdrawal effects without having to worry about the psychological aspects of the addiction.
On the other hand, stop smoking tablets do not contain nicotine at all, so they rely upon different mechanisms of action to help patients give up their bad habit. Currently, there are two types of stop smoking tablets which are available on the market – Champix with varenicline as an active ingredient and Zyban which is based on bupropion. These two have different mechanisms of action and therefore come with their own pros and cons which is why it is highly recommended that you consult with your doctor regarding the optimal choice.
To read more about this type of tablets, you can visit our page dedicated specifically to this topic.