Living in Seattle, I can’t say that I see as many smokers as I did when I lived on the East Coast. My personal view on this is that people on the West Coast seem to be more aware of their health and how they take care of themselves. Tobacco is a highly addictive substance, and the Centers for Disease Control estimate that 46 million people (20.6% of all adults in the U.S.) smoke cigarettes; it is more common among men than woman. Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States – not surprising – and accounts for approximately 443,000 deaths each year (that means 1 in every 5 deaths is preventable).
Why is Nicotine so addictive?
Nictotine binds to nicotinic acetylcholine receptors and increases the levels of dopamine which overwhelms the reward circuits of the brain leading to feelings of euphoria and relaxation. These feelings become addictive and almost necessary for individuals to function. In addition to increased dopamine, cigarette smoke also contains monoamine oxidase inhibitors (or MAOI’s) which prevent the breakdown of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. In short, the nicotine is increasing the level of neurotransmitters that provide a “rewarding” feeling while simultaneous preventing their breakdown – how could you not get addicted to this stuff?
Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors are also known as a potent class of anti-depressants; the mechanism of action allows for an accumulation and increased availability of norepinephrine and epinephrine by inhibiting the action of monoamine oxidase. MAOI’s are often the last line of treatment, used only after other treatments have failed, because of the potentially lethal dietary and drug interactions.
What are the effects of the “feel good feeling” provided by nicotine? That depends on which body system we are looking at. Here’s an abbreviated list to give you an idea:
– Cigarette smoking reduces circulation by narrowing blood vessels; this can lead to peripheral vascular disease and coronary heart disease.
– Cigarette smoking causes lung disease by permanently damaging the airways and air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs. The destruction of air sacs leads to emphysema; an irreversible deterioration of your lungs.
– Cigarettes contain known carcinogens, which means cancer. Smoking can cause Acute myeloid leukemia, Bladder cancer, Cancer of the cervix, Cancer of the esophagus, Kidney cancer, Cancer of the larynx (voice box, Lung cancer, Cancer of the oral cavity (mouth), Cancer of the pharynx (throat), Stomach cancer, Cancer of the uterus etc. (Do you still need a reason to quit?)
There are a number of treatments to help individuals quit smoking. Bastyr Center for Natural Health (BCNH) promotes the use of acupuncture to ease the cravings that accompany quitting. Acupuncture works by changing the way you taste cigarettes; this shifts the smoker away from the pleasure that normally is associated with smoking. According to BCNH, treatment traditionally includes a total of six to eight visits over the course of one month. The acupuncturist will likely needle points in the exterior cartilage of the ear while also taking time to learn your health history, lifestyle habits and potential obstacles to quitting. By learning about personal habits, your health care provider can find out what triggers cravings for cigarettes and how to effectively change your lifestyle to help you successfully quit.
Quitting can be a huge undertaking; but making the decision to quit is the first step in the right direction. It’s important to remember that there are no safe alternatives to smoking (for example: cigars or chewing tobacco). Make the decision to live a healthier life.
Bastyr Center for Natural Health, Ready to Trash Tobacco? Acupuncture is on Your Side
Centers for Disease Control, Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking Fact Sheet
Centers for Disease Control, Adult Cigarette Smoking Fact Sheet
Wikipedia, Pharmacokinetics of Nicotine