The Psychology of Smoking

Smoking can be a real drag

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

It’s part of your psychological makeup: Once you understand the psychological reason behind why you smoke, it becomes easier to let go of the habit. In most cases, people make the decision to smoke at an early age, somewhere between 5 and 10 years old. The reasons for this are purely psychological and not within the realm of conscious thought.

A typical example is, you love your father or mother and they smoke, you observe behaviours by them that appear to make smoking part of their character. If people like them, you subconsciously link being liked with smoking. Another example, in the opposite, negative sense, would be, you observe a parent/friend being stressed or abused and afterwards they light up a cigarette. The link here becomes one of survival, i.e. if I am abused a cigarette will help me to cope!

There are many reasons why we smoke. Imagine you are lonely or don't have many friends, you see people giving cigarettes to friends; the subconscious illogic being, cigarettes create friends, this increases social bonding. It can also create a mental awareness of acceptance/approval. If this bonding occurs within a loving relationship the link to cigarettes can become even stronger.

Another reason can be trauma-based e.g. being involved in an accident or incident, e.g. 9/11? You are offered a cigarette or may even ask for one if you perceive some form of release; the link to smoking can be created. And, inexplicably, despite there being nothing in a cigarette that helps people relax, people do feel relaxed after a cigarette. If you feel relaxed after a cigarette, any evidence, scientific or otherwise, to the contrary will 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 there being 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. While they do pay some of that back in healthcare costs, in many countries health care is paid for by some form of insurance; 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 found the amount of nicotine consumed, per cigarette, rose approx 1.6 per cent per year between 1998 and 2005 across most cigarette market categories (mentholated, full-strength, light, ultra-light). This represents an increase of approx. 11 per cent of nicotine content per cigarette over a seven-year period. These higher levels of nicotine may make it a little harder for you to quit, but it's still doable!

Classical conditioning creates links between behaviour and external triggers. For example, first thing in the morning you light up, the process of awakening then stimulates the conditioned response of smoking. After or during a cup of coffee, you light up, the coffee stimulates the need or desire to smoke; the same goes for beer or wine. Dr Ivan Pavlov was able to make dogs salivate, just by 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. With or without a bell.

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 simple truth appears to be; no matter what you may think, any value you perceive from smoking is purely illusory. The only benefactors of you smoking are the cigarette Companies, retailers and Governments.

 The ones who pay the highest price and, ultimately, the greatest sacrifice are the smokers and their loved ones.