When Christopher Columbus first received a gift of tobacco leaves from well-meaning Native Americans in 1492, he hurled them overboard. Smoking was unknown in Europe at that stage, and it wasn’t until several years later, when Portuguese sailors spotted natives smoking the leaves, tried it themselves and liked it, that smoking became a global sensation with Nicotine addiction being a huge health issue world wide.
Fast-forward to the present and you can’t help but wonder if Christopher Columbus had a premonition that stormy day. Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of death and disease in the United States. Every eight seconds in the US, one person dies from a smoking-related illness.
Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer and is also implicated in cancers of the esophagus, larynx, mouth, stomach, kidney and bladder. Smokers have a higher risk of heart disease, breathing disorders, dementia, erectile dysfunction, fertility problems, hip fractures, cataracts…the list could go on and on!
So why do people still smoke? In a nutshell, because it is so difficult to stop. But experts from the Alcohol and Drug Recovery Center at the Cleveland Clinic, Ohio believe with consistent, repetitive, unwavering support; behavioral tools and drug therapy; it is possible for anyone to quit.
Because, in actual fact, most people want to. And many have tried, but few have succeeded. Nicotine addiction is extremely difficult to overcome. Smoking stimulates reward centers deep in the brain. Chemical messenger systems are hijacked and dopamine – the “feel good hormone – is abundantly released.
The more people smoke, the more they need to smoke. Before they know it, the act of smoking becomes entwined in their daily schedule and scarce financial resources get squandered in order to buy more cigarettes. Attempts to quit are thwarted by withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, jitteriness, irritability, headache, insomnia, and increased appetite. Eventually, a nicotine addict comes to value and crave nicotine more than health or life itself.
Telling people that smoking is bad for them falls short of the mark. Smokers are literally in a fight for their life and need an abundance of emotional support, well-tested behavioral tools, and well-proven pharmacological medicines to help overcome their addiction to tobacco. In the face of repeated failures, offer encouragement, persistence and optimism.
Collins G, Jerry J, Bales R. Quitting smoking: Still a challenge, but newer tools show promise.
Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine 2015. 82(1). doi:10.3949/ccjm.81a.14016
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