The Tale of Why You Inhale
by Lindsey Carlson Public Health Intern, The Resource Center
Most individuals are aware of the dangers and health consequences that go along with partaking in smoking cigarettes or using other tobacco products, but over 264 billion cigarettes were still sold in the year 2015.¹ The majority of those who smoke cigarettes begin early on in their life and for a few common reasons. Some reasons may include: being curious, wanting to relieve stress, fear of rejection by friends or family members, and/or going through a difficult time in life.² Many feel as though they will only try it and if desired will have the power to quit before any serious consequences occur from it. Unfortunately, this idea is usually not as easy as it seems and continued use is seen for a long period of time. Unexpectedly, a nine letter word appears and takes away a sense of control, A-D-D-I-C-T-I-O-N.
As for cigarettes and tobacco products, nicotine is the naturally occurring substance found in the leaves of a tobacco plant. Within ten seconds after inhalation occurs nicotine arrives at the brain and begins disrupting normal bodily functioning. Instantly, nicotine binds to receptors in the body causing a flood of epinephrine (adrenaline) and dopamine into the system. Epinephrine begins to create a fight or flight response by strengthening breathing rates, increasing blood pressure, and causing the heart to beat harder and faster than normal. Along with epinephrine, increased dopamine is also released. Dopamine creates the “everything will be okay” “feel good” vibe after having a cigarette. The body receives a rewarding response from these and in turn begins to want more. Tolerance to the substance is also built requiring more cigarettes to be used in order to receive the same response; this is how addiction is born.³
Along with the body’s addiction to nicotine, habits are also created. A habit consists of a routine that is developed by performing an action because of an association to something else. For example, most smokers light a cigarette first thing in the morning, during breaks at specific times throughout the day, in the car, and when drinking substances such as coffee or alcohol. The body physically and psychologically becomes acclimated to this process. Without being aware, the body automatically triggers a response to smoke. When it is taken away, withdrawal symptoms occur, which makes it difficult to give up.4
Being aware and figuring out a different “go to” is shown to be very beneficial to the quitting process by taking place of the old habit. Interestingly, exercise is shown to produce and release dopamine naturally in the body which is why it is a great tool to help with the quitting process. If an enjoyable physical activity is found it can also help develop a positive self image and boost confidence to stay smoke free. This in turn becomes a win-win situation for the body to become as healthy as possible. Along with exercise, specific foods containing the amino acid tyrosine help to generate dopamine in the body as well. They can contribute to a positive mind-set and help deal with stressful situations. Examples of these foods include: eggs, kale, bananas, yogurt, almonds, avocados, and chicken. They help to create a balanced diet as well as provide a rewarding feel good response.5 It is important to remember, when one step is taken in a positive direction, it is easier to take another step in the same direction to contribute to a healthier lifestyle.
Although cigarettes are often not seen as a serious and harmful drug, nicotine is just as addictive as other powerful drugs such as heroin and cocaine. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, addiction is considered a, “Chronic relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite harmful consequences.”² Along with the nicotine, another 7,000 chemicals found in cigarettes are what contribute to the startling health statistics. When lit, a group of cancer causing agents work together and start causing immediate damage from the formation of smoke that is inhaled. The strongest correlation is the relationship between smoking and lung cancer. Smoking is associated with roughly 90% of all reported lung cancers. It can have an impact on almost all parts of the body from decreased taste to even contributing to diabetes by limiting insulin production.¹ In Chautauqua county 26 percent of adults smoke cigarettes compared to 16.8 percent of the United States adult population.6 New York State is ranked the most expensive state to purchase cigarettes in, with an annual out of pocket cost of $3,674.7 It has also contributed to healthcare cost of over 300 billion dollars each year.
When deciding to quit is important to develop a specific plan and have a strong support system during this process. Quitting with a friend is normally beneficial if both are equally committed to the process. Along with exercise and a healthy diet there are several medications that are on the market to help fight off cravings, including nicotine replacement therapies. These are the products that are widely known and include nicotine gum, patches, and lozenges. They can be bought over the counter and are shown to be highly effective in the quitting process. Talking with a physician about prescription medications such as Bupropion and Varenicline may also be helpful to fight off withdrawal symptoms. These medications are shown to be the most useful when paired directly with counseling.³ Although it is not an easy task, there are immediate and long term benefits that occur after quitting. The body begins to function how it did before smoking and lung function starts to recover. Within one year the threat of cardiovascular disease is cut in half and the risk for almost all cancers decreases dramatically. Within 5 years many health risks such as strokes are decreased to that of a non-smoker.¹1 It is important to remember that “Quitting smoking is a marathon, not a sprint” and that you are stronger than they are.
**If you are a current smoker or tobacco user, The Resource Center will be going Tobacco Free January 2017 so now is a perfect time to quit if desired. There are “Quit Kits” available as well as helpful information on the TRC STARS website. If you would like assistance with the quitting process feel free to contact your health coach, visit nysmokefree.com and/or call 1-866-NY-QUITS.
1. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Economic Facts about U.S. Tobacco Production and Use. 8 April 2016. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/economics/econ_facts/index.htm#sales. Accessed July 5,2016
2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Drugs, Brain, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction. July 2014. Available at: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/introduction. Accessed July 5, 2016
3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Drug Facts: Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products. May 2016. Available at: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/cigarettes-other-tobacco-products. Accessed July 5, 2016
4. Rosen J. John Hopkins University. Why is Breaking Habits Hard? Our Brains are Biased by Past Rewards. 11 February 2016. Available at: http://hub.jhu.edu/2016/02/11/dopamine-addiction-brain-science/. Accessed July 5,2016
5. University of Maryland Medical Center. Tyrosine. 16 July, 2013. Available at: http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/tyrosine. Accessed July 7, 2016
6. Chautauqua County Department of Health. Chautauqua County Community Health Assessment 2014-2017. 15 November 2013. Available at: http://chautauqua.ny.us/DocumentCenter/View/939. Accessed July 5, 2016
7. Bernardo, Richie. The True Cost of Smoking by State. 2016. Available at: https://wallethub.com/edu/the-financial-cost-of-smoking-by-state/9520/#cost-lifetime. Accessed July 19, 2016