This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 14 table of contents.

Tobacco Addiction

Many students would not put tobacco in the same category as other addictive drugs such as heroin or cocaine. However, tobacco has the same addictive potential. Statistics gathered from people who try to quit smoking show that a tobacco addiction is just as hard to quit as any other addiction. Because tobacco is more readily available than other drugs, and usually legal to use, it is the most widespread addiction in the world. It is the foremost preventable cause of death in many societies. In the United States, tobacco-related illnesses kill seven times more people each year than traffic accidents, making tobacco a far bigger health threat than heroin.

How does tobacco compare to other addictions?

Once a person is addicted to tobacco, smoking improves motor performance and memory. It reduces anxiety, increases tolerance of pain, and reduces hunger, probably by acting on both the dopaminergic and opiate receptor systems in the brain. The effect is quick and easily controlled. "Within seven seconds of puffing a cigarette, a quarter of the nicotine in inhaled smoke enters the brain. The delivery is quick and hits like a spike" (Blakeslee, 1984).

What points did the United States Surgeon General make, about tobacco use?

The 23rd Surgeon General's report on tobacco and health, released in 1994, made the following points about tobacco use in the United States:

—Most people first try tobacco before graduating from high school.

—Most young smokers are addicted to nicotine and report that they want to quit but cannot.

—Tobacco is a "gateway substance" since it is often the first drug used by young people who go on to use alcohol and illegal drugs.

—Young people with poorer grades and lower self-images are most likely to use tobacco,

—Cigarette advertising appears to increase young people's risk of smoking by sending the message that smoking has social benefits and is far more common than it really is. (DeAngelis, 1994)

Why would tobacco companies target young people?

Why do young people start smoking, if it is so dangerous? The primary reason is to be "cool" in the eyes of their peers. As suggested by the Surgeon Generals, advertising by tobacco companies may play a big role in this. The most-smoked brands of cigarettes are those that are advertised most heavily. Although tobacco companies deny targeting young people, they know the statistics. If a person does not start smoking by the age of 20, that person is unlikely to ever start. Therefore, if tobacco companies want to replenish the constantly diminishing pool of older tobacco smokers, they have to recruit from the ranks of younger people.


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