Defining Why You Smoke

once you know why, you can stop smoking

I know smoking is bad for me, yet I can’t seem to quit; why?

Understanding some of the psychological reasons behind why you smoke, somehow makes it easier to finally quit the habit. In many instances, people will make a subconscious decision to smoke and quite often this is when they are children, somewhere between 5 and 10 years old. The reasons for this are purely psychological and not within the realm of conscious thought because they are driven by powers such as observation and quite probably involve mirror neurons. These are special neurons in some key brain areas that allow us to learn through observing someone else's behaviour.

A typical example would be to observe someone you love, say your father or mother and because they smoke, you observe behaviours by them that appear to make smoking an attractive part of their character. If people genuinely like them, you subconsciously link being liked with smoking. In the opposite example, negatively, you observe a parent or a friend being stressed or abused, be it verbally or physically, and afterwards they light up a cigarette. The link then becomes one of survival itself. That is, if I am abused, a cigarette will help me to cope etc.

There are so many reasons why we end up becoming a smoker, for example, loneliness or not having many friends, you observe people giving cigarettes to their friends; the conscious logic (subconscious illogic) being that cigarettes can help to create friends and this then becomes an ideal builder of social networks or physical bonding. It creates mental awarenesses of key social attributes, e.g. acceptance, approval and love. If this bonding occurs within a loving relationship the link to cigarettes can become even stronger.

Another reason can be trauma based. You are involved in an accident or incident, e.g. 9/11 and you are offered a cigarette or even ask for one if you perceive some form of release; the link to smoking can be created. Despite the fact that there is nothing in a cigarette that helps people relax, people can or do feel relaxed after a cigarette. If you feel relaxed after a cigarette, any evidence, scientific or otherwise, to the contrary can be discounted.

Some reasons people start to smoke are:

  • Being goaded by friends, I dare you,
  • Being part of the in-crowd (friends do it)
  • It makes you feel cool
  • Hey look at me, I’m all grown-up
  • Just to be rebellious, or buck authority
  • OP’s (other peoples) are easy to smoke and they’re free
  • The influence of significant people, e.g. parents, friends actors, people you respect or admire
  • A way to lose weight, nicotine suppresses the appetite
  • To make you feel calm or relaxed

Despite the fact that there are more information and evidence about the ills of smoking, people, especially the young, continue to smoke or take up the habit. Governments worldwide appear at one level to be anti-smoking, yet they make millions in taxes. Although they may pay some of that back in healthcare costs, in many countries health care is paid for by some form of insurance; and smokers pay higher premiums!

Tobacco manufacturers have boosted the nicotine content in tobacco products and created devious ways to increase the number of draws on each cigarette. Researchers have found the amount of nicotine consumed, per cigarette, rose by approx of 1.6 per cent per year between 1998 and 2005 across most cigarette market categories (mentholated, non-mentholated, full-strength, light, ultra-light, etc.). This represents an increase of approx.. 11 per cent of nicotine content per cigarette over a seven-year period. These higher levels of nicotine make it a little harder for you to quit, but it is still doable!

Classical (Pavlovian) conditioning creates links between behaviour and external triggers. E.g. the first thing you do in the morning is to light up, the process of awakening stimulates the conditioned response of smoking. After or during a cup of coffee, you have a cigarette. The coffee creates the desire or needs to smoke; the same goes for a beer or wine etc. Dr Pavlov was able to make dogs salivate just ringing a bell that had been associated with the dog's feeding time. Seeing friends smoking cigarettes, watching movies where the actors smoke, or the smell of cigarette smoke may trigger the psychological desire to smoke.

Some reasons people smoke are:

  • To reduce anxiety or nervousness
  • To create calm when you are angry
  • To satiate the desire to smoke
  • To assuage feelings angst or restlessness
  • Social bonding
  • The appearance of being relaxed
  • A distraction from mundane work
  • During a coffee or tea break (or at the pub)
  • Following sex
  • Time passes quickly when we smoke; doesn’t it.
  • The greatest traffic jam release method ever invented (yeah right)
  • It helps you concentrate better

The apparent, perhaps undeniable, truth seems to be; no matter whatever you may think about smoking or any value you perceive to come from smoking is simply an illusion. The only people who really benefit from you smoking; are the cigarette Companies, retailers and Governments. Psychologically you have been conditioned and primed to smoke and that just means, you are a duped but somewhat willing participant in your own dis-enrichment!