Tobacco first became widely popular after the Europeans reached North America in the late 15th century. The invention of the cigarette rolling machine in the 19th century then caused a further boom in popularity due to its newfound convenience. The nicotine within tobacco is largely believed among smokers to provide some quick stress relief, with effects reaching the brain in around eight seconds, but it is also very addictive.
Though we now know that smoking is bad for our health, and have done since the 1960s, it remains the UK's leading cause of preventable death.
Cigarettes and tobacco are readily available in many supermarkets and corner shops around the country. Like alcohol, it is age restricted and should only be sold to adults with identification proving that they are over eighteen years of age.
Though smoking has become less popular than ever before, falling 2.9% between 2010 and 2015, 17.2% of all UK adults are still trapped by the habit. Of the four countries in the UK, England has the lowest percentage of smokers in their population at 16.9% of all adults, while Scotland has the highest percentage at 19.1%. Men are more likely than women to smoke.
Quitting is on the rise, with 2015 statistics showing that those who had stopped smoking made up more than half of adults with a history of smoking. The abundance of e-cigarettes and “vaping” options may have contributed to this rise, as around 2.3 million Brits use e-cigarettes and more than half consider it to be a suitable method to help them quit smoking.
As mentioned above, smoking is considered the biggest cause of preventable death and it is responsible for around 96, 000 deaths in the UK every year. Smokers tend to be ten years younger when they die than their non-smoking counterparts and around half of all smokers can be expected to die prematurely. Smoking addictions cause a wide range of illnesses within the user themselves, but there can also be negative health effects for those around them due to the dangers of second-hand smoke.
Ask almost any person on the street what smoking may do to a person and they are likely to highlight lung cancer as one of the biggest issues. This is understandable as around 90% of lung cancers are thought to be caused by smoking. Unfortunately the cancer-causing effects of smoking are not limited to the lungs as kidney, pancreatic, and cervical cancers are just some of the varied cancer types associated with tobacco use. The International Agency for Research on Cancer lists both tobacco use and second-hand smoke as a Group 1 carcinogen, meaning that there is a large amount of evidence to show that it raises the likelihood of cancer developing.
Smoking can also have a huge impact on the cardiovascular system. As chemicals in tobacco cause blood vessels to narrow, the risk of heart attack and stroke increase, along with heart disease and clotting in the arteries. This narrowing of the blood vessels also means that oxygen can't be moved around the body effectively and, in the worst case scenarios, this can mean that the smoker's limbs need to be amputated.
A woman's fertility can be affected by smoking addiction, dependent on the length of time and volume of cigarettes, as several of the chemicals in tobacco disrupt the production of oestrogen in the body. A female smoker is around 60% more likely to be infertile when compared to non-smokers, and there is an increased risk of danger to the developing foetus and possible miscarriage. Male smokers are also more likely to have problems with sex, as the narrowing of the arteries associated with smoking makes them 85% more likely to suffer from impotence compared to non-smokers.
The general health and well-being of a long-term smoker tends to wore than that of a non-smoker. Those with a daily smoking habit are far more likely to catch the flu than someone who doesn't smoke, and it can be expected to last longer and affect them more strongly. Similarly, the smoking population is also more susceptible to infection – particularly lung infections – due to the on-going impact on the immune system and the damage done to the lungs through the habit.
Drug interactions are not likely to be the first thing you think of when discussing the health risks associated with smoking addictions but, to a health professional, this can be a big concern. In a smoker, the liver has to process the toxins associated with tobacco and this can alter the way it may cope with medications. Certain medications, such as the blood thinner Heperin, have a very narrow window where they are both effective and carry few side-effects. A smoker may require a different dosage and, should their smoking habits change, this will need to be adjusted once again to ensure that the risks associated with those medications are lessened.
After a nice pub meal on a Friday night, it can be quite common to have to walk through a cloud of smoke at the doors before the walk home. In 2007 it became illegal to smoke in enclosed public spaces, including bus shelters, trains, and restaurants, and so smokers have to stand outside in the cold to get their nicotine hit. This prevents passive smoking to some level, which is a plus to non-smokers, but can mean that being the only smoker on a night out may be a lonely experience.
Along with having to disappear outside periodically at work and in social situations, a smoker's social life may be further impacted by the effect their addiction has on mood and stress levels. While many smoking addicts believe that having a quick puff makes them feel calmer and helps them relax, a number of studies actually argue that the opposite is true. Smokers are more likely to report higher daily stress levels – levels that fall once the individual quits their habit. It's thought that, while the cigarette itself may make the smoker temporarily believe that their stress level has decreased, they will then grow more agitated between cigarettes.
Smoking can also impact dating prospects as a non-smoker may not want to date someone who is reliant on cigarettes. Other smokers only make up only a little over 17% of the population, limiting the pool of options to smokers. While films may try and make smoking seem cool, long-term tobacco use can cause the tips of the fingers to turn yellow and dull their skin. A smoker's breath can also be unpleasant due to the dry mouth affect and the smell of smoke can cling to clothes, skin, and hair.
The home of a smoker may hold onto the smell of smoke as it seeps into fabrics like curtains, bed cloths, and carpets. Yellowing walls and surfaces are also common. Landlords may be reluctant to knowingly let a smoker live in their properties for these reasons and it can impact the value of your home if you wish to resell.
One of the biggest social impacts, however, is passive smoking. An adult who has chosen to smoke is likely to have made a conscious decision and be fully aware of the health risks associated with their addiction. Non-smoking friends and family members may not have made the same choices but they can expect to face the same health risks due to passive smoking. Children with parents or guardians who smoke have an increased risk of asthma and are more likely to suffer from ear infections than children raised in a non-smoking environment. Like adult smokers, they are more susceptible to illness and the absences that come as a result may go on to impact their education. A correlation has also been found between smoking within a household and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Additionally, children who have grown up with adults who smoke are significantly more likely to smoke than those from smoke-free families, meaning that the impacts of smoking could continue through their lives.
Tobacco smoking is not illegal but it is age restricted to over 18s. Many stores operate the same policy as they do with alcohol, “Challenge 25”, meaning that they will ask anyone who looks under 25 years old for proof of age before selling them tobacco products and e-cigarettes. Cigarettes and tobacco products are not to be publicly displayed, generally staying behind sliding doors in shops and supermarkets. A court date and a fine of £2500 can be the consequence of breaking these laws.
Additionally, it is illegal for someone to smoke in a vehicle that contains a child under the age of eighteen years old or for a driver to allow someone else to smoke in the vehicle while someone under eighteen is present. Breaking these laws can result in a £50 fine for each offence.
While a smoking addiction is not known to directly cause crime in the way that alcohol or illegal drugs do, there is some correlation between mothers who smoke during pregnancy and the likelihood that their child will go on to commit crime later in life. Research suggests that the children of heavy smokers, consuming more than twenty cigarettes a day, are around a third more likely to be arrested in adulthood than children who grew up in smoke-free households. It's thought that this is likely to be down to the effect smoking has on the developing brain of the child in the womb. Another study also found that areas with higher crime rates were more likely to have a larger smoking population. This could, however, be attributed to the wealth of the areas as smoking is more prevalent among the less financially well-off and economically poorer areas tend to experience higher crime levels.
This year is making the cost of a smoking habit bigger than ever before. While the tax level on cigarettes has always been substantial, a new minimum duty manufacturers are expected to pay is due to rise to £5.37 per pack. This means that the cheapest 20 pack will now cost around £8.82, though the average is expected to go up to £10.26. A heavy smoker is considered to smoke above 20 cigarettes a day, meaning that their average monthly smoking bill (not including lighters or other tobacco products) is over £300. Annually, this works out at a £3652.56 for each individual smoker and around £19 billion across all UK households.
Smoking is not only costly to the individual but it also has a significant financial impact on society as well. According to the ASH Fact Sheets, the total bill in England is around £12.9 billion per year. Obviously a large portion of this is attributed to the NHS due to the impact long-term smoking has on the health of the smoker and those around them, but the effect on the job market is also included. Smokers are more likely than non-smokers to get ill and miss time at work, leaving employers with the potentially costly problem of finding someone to fill in at short notice. Scottish employers in 2006 also suggested that smoking breaks were costing them around $450 million annually due to the lost productivity, though this data was collected before the law changed to move smokers outside.
A further cost is environmental. As mentioned above, smoking can cause staining on walls and lingering smells around properties meaning that replacing or renewing these features on a premises before resale can be significant. Smoking litter, from cigarette butts to tobacco packets, is another environmental cost with Scottish local authorities attributing £65 million to the clean-up and around £500 million in England. Additionally, fire caused by cigarettes can be both financially expensive and, as the leading cause of fire deaths and injuries, costly to individuals.
Signs of Addiction
Addiction to smoking can be rapid and, like many drug dependencies, the first sign of being hooked is likely to be the strong cravings after a period of time not smoking. For example, if someone feels that they must immediately have a cigarette after waking up in the morning, it may indicate that their reliance on cigarettes is pretty severe. A willingness to brave the worst of the British weather rather than skipping a cigarette can be another big indicator, along with smoking more than seven cigarettes a day.
The other big signifiers of a smoking addiction happen during the gaps between cigarettes. If it is a long gap, or the smoker is trying to quit, they may feel irritable or restless, with strong tobacco cravings. They may also feel some flu-like symptoms and can even gain a little weight, as the appetite suppressing qualities of cigarettes leave their system. And, like the withdrawal process of many drugs, they may find that they have trouble with sleep and can't make it through the night uninterrupted.
There are a huge range of options to help a smoker escape their addiction. The NHS has local Stop Smoking services to aid the quitting process, providing advice and direction to improve the chances of the smoker stopping properly. These services will typically have one-to-one appointments but there may also be group or drop-in programmes available in your local area as well.
Nicotine is the centre of a smoking addiction so products to replace the nicotine can be a good take-off point for treating the problem. From skin patches to mouth sprays, there is a wide variety of options to choose from but all provide a small dose of nicotine to offset the cravings without the other harmful chemicals in cigarettes.
E-cigarettes are rising in popularity as a method to stop smoking as they deliver the nicotine hit through a vapour whilst also removing some of the most negative effects of cigarettes. As some people struggle with breaking the habit aspect of smoking, finding themselves gazing longingly outside at the time of their usual smoking break or struggling when smoking friends pop outside for a quick one without them, this can help the gradual reduction of nicotine without the abrupt stop of routine.
Medications can also help treat a smoking addiction, though these do come with their own significant side effects. The first, Varenicline, reduces nicotine cravings and also stops the rewarding feelings associated with smoking. The second, Bupropion, was originally used as an anti-depressant but is thought work on the parts of the brain which deal with addictive behaviour. Unfortunately both can cause dry mouth, constipation, headaches, along with other side effects.
Treatment is, however, hugely reliant on the individual. When they feel ready to quit, they may use any one of the options above or they may even use a combination to help them get through the withdrawal period. While a smoking habit can have permanent effects on the health of the smoker quitting, no matter how long they have been smoking, has been shown to extend life expectancy, improve breathing, and boost energy. It's a clear win from day one.
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