Smoking tobacco in the U.S. goes back almost 400 years, with the first cash crop of tobacco leaf grown in Jamestown in 1612. It is only in the last 50 years that smoking has been recognized as more than just a ‘nasty habit’ and seen to be a true addiction.
In the middle of the 20th century the anti-smoking movement started gaining ground in the U.S. when the link between smoking and lung cancer was exposed.
How addictive is smoking?
In 2007, a study in the British Medical Journal, Lancet ranked tobacco along with nineteen other abused substances on a scale of dependence and physical harm. Tobacco was more addictive than amphetamines, barbiturates, and alcohol. It placed about even with cocaine. The only abused drug that clearly beat it was heroin.1
Scale of dependence and physical harm
For smokers who have tried to quit smoking, the highly addictive nature is probably not surprising. A 2004 initiative from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) was aimed at reducing the number of Americans who smoked from 20% down to 12% by 2010 through education, legislation and partnering with the medical community. Part of the program studied usage patterns and found: “Among those who currently smoked every day, 40.5% (14.6 million) reported that they had stopped smoking for at least 1 day during the preceding 12 months because they were trying to quit.” The success rate for first time quitters is about 2.5%.
These numbers highlight just how addictive smoking actually is: 40% trying to stop and only 2.5% making it.
Ignorance isn’t an excuse
There was a time when the consequences of a smoking were disputed. Tobacco companies paid for studies that criticized or spun what should have been obvious health data about harm. This is no longer the case. Anyone who smokes is aware of the damage.
About a half-million people in the U.S. die every year from smoking (these and other statistics from QuitGuide2). Deaths are from cancer, heart disease or emphysema.
Second hand smoking is responsible for about 50,000 deaths a year in the U.S.
Pregnant mothers who smoke kill about a thousand babies a year because of smoking related complications.
Smoking is the number one cause of preventable deaths in almost all countries on the planet.
More smoking statistics can be found here
Acute effects of a smoking addiction
An addict will continue to abuse something even when they know the harm it causes. Even when the long-term health effects are concealed, the acute problems are obvious to anyone who smokes
- Cigarettes range from $3 to a whopping $8 a pack and more increases are on the way. It is common for smokers to spend over $2,000 a year on their habit.
- Non-smokers can testify to the stink smokers carry around with them on their clothes, their hair and breath. Smokers also generate a surprising amount of litter in the form of cigarette butts and empty cigarette packages.
- Shared danger
- Second hand smoke is no longer suspected of causing real harm; it has been demonstrated in many studies3
- Social costs
- More and more, smokers are ostracized and separated from opportunity because of their addiction. Smokers are seen as less educated (actually true on average) and unable to make good decisions about their own health.
Help is available for smoking addiction
If you are addicted to smoking, there is no good reason to continue. There are multiple treatments available that increase the odds to successfully quit smoking – resources exist online and are freely available from the medical community. The rule still holds, don’t quit quitting. It may take multiple tries, but the end result is worth it, financially, socially, and because of the health benefits.
photo by Karol Stroz
- "Development of a rational scale to assess the harm of drugs of potential misuse," Nutt D. et al, Lancet, 2007
- Smoking Facts from The Ultimate Quit Smoking Guide
- Second-hand Smoke In NZ