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Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Nicotine Habit, Why Smoking is so Tough to Give up

 As with many medical issues, people often don't change their lifestyles until faced with their own mortality by losing their health. So what is in tobacco anyway? 

Tobacco plants evolved the ability to make a nerve gas against insects. That ability is called nicotine, an alkaloid pesticide that plants evolved to defend themselves against insect pests. 

Cigarettes are the source of many irritants and poisons such as: reactive metal fragments, ammonia fumes, the paint stripper chemical acetone, hydrogen sulfide, methane, hydrogen cyanide, nitric oxide and formaldehyde. That certainly is not an inclusive list. According to David Bodanis in his book, "The Secret House", the reason cigarettes are the source of all these is because once lit the cigarette makes them itself.  During inhalation the glowing tip of the cigarette can reach 1,700 degrees F. That heat rips the tobacco and paper compounds into their constituent parts and from those basic parts, builds them up again into the poisonous, complex chemicals we started with. This is possible because under the intense heat hydrogen and oxygen come together to form water, which then superheats into steam and condenses as it cools. The chemicals have time to form in between the puffs on the cigarette which starts that process again and again. All that is going on just inside the cigarette, the dim glow behind the red hot tip.

Now imagine what is really in that smoke stream anyone around you has no choice but to breathe. The newly created chemicals of poison clot together in extremely small balls. By the time the cigarette is burned half-way down those little hydrogen cyanide balls are falling, ready to stick to whatever or whomever they land. In addition to that, the exhalation from the smoker is spewing out ammonia, cyanide, formaldehyde and mucus constituents from the nasal lining. 

According to Dr. Mehmet Oz, "Nicotine is one of the most toxic addictions-especially because of its physiological effect on the rest of the body. But the addiction itself is manifested in not only an emotional need for the drug but also a physical need; your brain tells your body it needs nicotine to prevent the symptoms of withdrawal. One reason that nicotine is addictive is that it creates pleasure in the brain, causing a feeling of relaxation. Over time, nicotine keeps your brain from supplying these chemicals that create these good feelings, and you end up craving more nicotine and the feeling it produces."

Everyone is told not to smoke. So why do people continue with such a harmful habit?  In his book, "The Secret Family", David Bodanis claims that nicotine works on the limbic system cells in the brain. By giving a boost in self-confidence many people crave, they soon think they need the stress relief cigarettes appear to offer.  Another reason that people, especially girls, enjoy their smokes is because the nicotine slows the stomach's usual movements which diminishes an appetite. Supposedly ideal for anyone trying to stay slim or lose weight. Women don't seem to realize that their idealistic body image could become an oxygen starved, wrinkled figure with thinning bones prone to fracture. Little is more harmful for maintaining a youthful facial complexion than the damage from free radicals caused by cigarettes.

The tobacco industry understands human nature. Young people vulnerable to peer pressure and normal insecurities are at a higher risk for poor decision making. Once the addictive properties of nicotine take hold, often people smoke for years until they can finally break the habit. Truth be told, many smokers claim to actually enjoy their cigarettes. Reaching for a cigarette while under emotional stress can be like having a good friend. Only true friends don't haunt you down the road.

A little encourage from popular herbalist Susun Weed:
"Tobacco is highly addictive and you can beat it. Get an extra edge on quitting by nourishing yourself with a handful of freshly toasted sunflower seeds and a cup of nettle or oatstraw infusion daily for 4-6 weeks before you stop smoking. Sunflower seeds reduce cravings for nicotine by filling nicotine receptor sites. Nettles and oatstraw strengthen nerves and cushion the impact of withdrawal."

Susun recommends the following book to help quit the habit:

The No-Nag, No-Guilt, Do-It-Your-Own-Way Guide to Quitting Smoking by Tom Ferguson, MD, Ballantine, 1987.