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I remember sneaking in my first cigarette.

I was 15, had no wish to subject my body to the poison that was tar & nicotine, and yet, I did it.

I grabbed one of my dad’s gold foiled pack of Benson’s, sidled into the bathroom with a couple of pals, and took a drag. I felt nothing. Nothing but the inklings of a cough & an itchy throat. Nothing to really write home about. Nothing to enable all the hubbub. 

That was the first & last cigarette I ever tried, and as I dumped it after that one drag, I thought of my whys. My friends had tried some form of the activity – the e-cigarettes that smelt like cherries, the “edible” yet smokable kind and of course, there were the traditionalists – those who smoked their dad’s cigarettes and would never stray from their version of ‘cigarette purity.’ 

Did I just do it because I wanted to be cool? Nah, cigarettes ceased to be cool when I was a teen. Did I do it because I wanted to feel included? Yeet, that bathroom was so small, we were all included anyway. Maybe it was just plain, old human curiosity? Who knows? Perhaps, if we dwelled on the ‘whys’ of some people who choose to smoke, we’d have a better idea of how to deal with this’ silent epidemic’. 

The perfect day to dwell on such an important topic would be May 31st – the World’s No-Tobacco Day as decreed by WHO. 

 – Artwork by Natalie Leh Pei Yii, ME219

We all know why we should stop smoking. There are no benefits to such an addiction other than mere moments of signified relief. Indeed, studies (Robinson ML, Houtsmuller EJ, Moolchan ET, Pickworth WB. Placebo cigarettes in smoking research. 2000) on the effect of placebo cigarettes have shown the validity of such a notion. So, why do so many smokers smoke? 

If we tear open a flimsy cigarette, we would find within a thin sheet of tobacco blend. The blend is made up of leaf strips mixed with bright leaf, burley and orientals to heighten the smell & flavour of a pretty drab, seemingly harmless plant. Add in some scraps, collected dust, chemicals & fillers, a spray of nicotine and a dash of a humectant – we’ve got ourselves  a brilliant slow-burn for a whole host of diseases. 

Nicotine — the main compound of our deadly little friend, is actually plant-based. It’s a stimulant & an alkaloid, produced by nightshades – these pretty flowers down here! 

(Taken: Nicotiana tabacum. Wikipedia.) 

The main reason for nicotine getting such a bad rap is it’s very addictive – a much deadlier foe than your post-exam Netflix addiction. It has a tendency to reinforce drug addictions, compulsive use and relapses following abstinence. Staying away from it may cause symptoms of depressed mood, stress, anxiety, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and sleep disturbances – and this is where most smokers give up on their return to glory and our pretty alkaloid friend, takes them back into her clutches. 

But other than this biological prison, research has shown the dependence on tobacco may have more of a psychological basis than previously thought. Smokers use cigarettes as an outlet for their emotions, stress responses and for lubricating social interactions. Many people just pick this ‘easy’ way out rather than actually dealing with what’s bothering them. When that cycle continues, and the puff of a cigarette because of their trigger of relief – that is when we class this behaviour as a psychological addiction. 

So why again does this occur, and how do we stop it? The why’s of most people starting to smoke are infinitely confusing – Freudians say it’s some sort of statement against your parental figures – “I am my own man and therefore, I can do this”, I am “tough”, “I am an adult”. As well as this, the struggle to fit into a crowd may be overpowering for a younger teenager – much like wanting a new iPhone, smoking is an extension of ‘all my friends do it, so why not me?’ These may seem like petty reasons to a wiser mind, but from those affected, they all look like reasonable assumptions to make. Therefore, maybe instead of trying to ‘Stop Smoking’ – we should make it an undesirable activity in the first place. 

I do see it now more than ever. Parents have ceased smoking; therefore, their kids do not see it as ‘adult’ anymore. Teenagers have found better outlets to be ‘cool’ than actually harming their respiratory health. There is more information and access to help in regards to second hand & third-hand smoking. Indeed, as we traverse through this COVID epidemic, more and more young people have seen first hand the magnanimity of cherishing health. Most importantly, we have now begun to realize that tobacco addiction is preventable. Therefore, even if we do still have this silent epidemic to fight, we can all find solace in the fact that things are getting better just because we as humans are getting better. 

Love, 

Tahseen 

To help yourself or someone you love to take on this fight, please send them this: 

Further Reading: https://www.who.int/features/factfiles/tobacco_epidemic/tobacco_epidemic_facts/en

https://www.paho.org/en/campaigns/world-no-tobacco-day-2020

 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC324461/#__sec1title

 

References:

Life’s Simple 7 Quit Smoking Infographic. www.heart.org. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy- living/healthy-lifestyle/my-life-check–lifes-simple-7/ls7-quit-smoking-infographic. 

WB;, R. M. L. H. E. J. M. E. T. P. Placebo Cigarettes in Smoking Research. Experimental and clinical psychopharmacology. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10975620/. 

Wikimedia Foundation. (2020, May 2nd). Nicotiana tabacum. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicotiana_tabacum. 

Wikimedia Foundation. (2020, May 28th). Tobacco. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tobacco. 

 

 – Written by Tahseen 

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