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Why Do We Smoke?

Updated: Dec 30, 2020

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Hello everyone, today we're going to talk about the scourge of our times, i.e, smoking. But we won't going to scare you with how horrible it is for your body etc. Instead, we'll going to focus on mental health issues related to smoking. So, let’s dive in.


  1. Tobacco kills more than 8 million people each year. More than 7 million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use, while 1 million are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.

  2. Half the people who smoke die from it.

  3. Almost 20% of global deaths are attributed to smoking.

  4. One-in-five adults in the world smoke tobacco.

  5. Men are much more likely to smoke than women.

  6. There are 1.3 billion smokers in the world today, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). If the trend continues, that number is expected to increase to 1.6 billion by the year 2025.

  7. On average, smoking will cut 13 years from your life expectancy.

Now If Smoking Is So Bad For Us, Why Do We Start Smoking In The First Place?

The tobacco industry’s ads, price breaks, and other promotions for its products are a big influence on our society. The tobacco industry spends billions of dollars each year to create and market ads that show smoking as exciting, glamorous, and safe. Tobacco use is also shown in video games, online, and on TV. And movies showing people smoking are another big influence. Studies show that young people who see smoking in movies are more likely to start smoking.

There are 3 main factors for anyone to start and continue smoking. Usually, we smoke because of a combination of these factors. They are the following:

1. Situation Triggers – the smoke you want when you’re in certain situations or with certain people. Most people who smoke started smoking when they were teenagers. Those who have friends or parents who smoke are more likely to start smoking than those who don’t. Some teenagers say that they “just wanted to try it,” or they thought it was “cool” to smoke. For others, it is a way to rebel against authority, to prove to others that they are “tough”. And the thrill of doing something taboo for their age group is enough for some to try smoking.

2. Emotional Triggers – the smoke you want when you’re upset, stressed, bored or happy. Many people start smoking as a way to cope with unwanted feelings. This is reinforced by society because stressed individuals are often “forgiven” for taking up smoking, in addition to being sympathised for.

3. Nicotine (or Physical) Addiction – the chemical addiction that causes withdrawal symptoms and the ‘need’ for nicotine.

How Does Smoking Become Addictive?

Nicotine is the main addictive substance in cigarettes and other forms of tobacco. Nicotine is a drug that affects many parts of your body, including your brain. Over time, your body and brain get used to having nicotine in them. About 80–90% of people who smoke regularly are addicted to nicotine. Nicotine reaches your brain within 10 seconds of when it enters your body. Nicotine acts on the chemistry of the brain and central nervous system, affecting mood. Nicotine works very much like other addictive drugs, by flooding the brain’s reward circuits with a chemical called dopamine. Nicotine also gives a little bit of an adrenaline rush – not enough to notice, but enough to speed up the heart and raise blood pressure. These neuro-chemicals create a buzz of pleasure and energy. This effect is the same as that produced by certain other drugs of misuse (such as amphetamines and cocaine) and is a critical feature of brain addiction mechanisms. The buzz quickly fades, though. Then you may feel tired or a little down—and you may want that buzz again.

Over time, your body is able to build up a high tolerance to nicotine, so you’ll need to smoke more cigarettes to get that same buzz. This up and down cycle happens over and over. That’s what leads to addiction. Studies show that smoking is most likely to become a habit during the teen years. The younger you are when you begin to smoke, the more likely you are to become addicted to nicotine.

Why Is It So Hard To Quit Smoking?

People who smoke become dependent on nicotine and suffer physical and emotional (mental or psychological) withdrawal symptoms when they stop smoking. These symptoms include:

There’s no danger in nicotine withdrawal, but the symptoms can be uncomfortable. They usually start within a few hours and peak about 2 to 3 days later when most of the nicotine and its by-products are out of the body. Withdrawal symptoms can last a few days to up to several weeks. They get better every day that a person stays tobacco-free. The following is a timeline of what you can expect:

  • ~30min – 4 hrs: The nicotine wears off, cravings begin.

  • ~10 hs: Feel restless, physically craving a cigarette. You may begin feeling sad or hopeless, unsure how to get through the time.

  • ~24 hrs: Increased irritability and appetite.

  • ~2 days: The nicotine begins to fully leave your system. You may develop headaches as this occurs.

  • ~3 days: The nicotine is gone and your cravings may taper off. Anxiety will likely increase.

  • ~1 week: You’ve cleared the first huge hurdle.

  • ~2 to 4 weeks: You’ll still likely feel fatigued, or low energy, but the brain fog is beginning to clear and your appetite is settling as well. Depression and anxiety will be improving and your cough should be clearing some as well.

  • ~5 weeks: The withdrawal symptoms have passed.

Smoking And Stress

Smoking cigarettes to help ease stress is known as 'self-medication'. Stress is very common, affecting us when we feel unable to cope with unwelcome pressure. It can cause physical symptoms like headaches or breathlessness as well as emotional ones, such as irritability, anxiety, and sadness. Feeling stressed often makes people smoke more than usual.

Research into smoking and stress has shown that instead of helping people relax, smoking actually increases anxiety and tension. Nicotine creates an immediate sense of relaxation so people smoke in the belief that it reduces stress and anxiety. This feeling of relaxation is temporary, and soon gives way to withdrawal symptoms and increased cravings.

Smoking and Depression

Smoking rates among adults with depression are about twice as high as among adults without depression. People with depression have particular difficulty when they try to stop smoking and have more severe withdrawal symptoms during attempts to give up. Nicotine stimulates the release of the chemical dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is involved in triggering positive feelings. It is often found to be low in people with depression, who may then use cigarettes as a way of temporarily increasing their dopamine supply. However, smoking encourages the brain to switch off its own mechanism for making dopamine so in the long term the supply decreases, which in turn prompts people to smoke more.


Electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) and electronic non-nicotine delivery systems (ENNDS), commonly referred to as e-cigarettes, are devices that heat a liquid to create an aerosol which is then inhaled by the user. These may or may not contain nicotine. The main constituents of the solution by volume are propylene glycol (with or without glycerol) and flavouring agents. E-cigarettes do not contain tobacco, but are harmful for health and are not safe. E-cigarettes are particularly risky when used by children and adolescents. ENDS use increases the risk of heart disease and lung disorders. They also pose significant risks to pregnant women who use them, as they can damage the growing foetus.

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