Drug Awareness: Nicotine

In 2018 smoking cigarettes is seen as a huge flaw in a person. We’ve come a long way in that sense, compared to the 1960’s when lighting up a cigarette was a clear sign of sophistication. It’s no longer a matter of debate that tobacco smoking is a huge health hazard to the smoker, the society at large, and the environment, on top of which it’s tremendously condemned by the society. Yet it’s still a widely practiced habit all over the world.

Use of tobacco originally sprung among the original inhabitants of North and South America, and was introduced to Europe and the rest of the world after the first voyage of Columbus. The first documented European to become a smoker was Rodrigo de Jerez, one of Columbus’s men, who tried tobacco with the natives. He instantly got addicted and tried to introduce tobacco to Europe after his return, instead people perceived him as possessed by the devil due to smoke coming out of his mouth and put him in jail. He can also be considered the first documented person to quit smoking cold turkey.

Around the 1600’s smoking spread to Europe, starting with King Philip II of Spain, Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh, who brought tobacco from the New World. Very soon it became fashionable for the aristocracy to smoke tobacco through long pipes. The first recorded person to oppose the idea of smoking was King James I of England, who wrote a lengthy treatise condemning the use of tobacco, calling smoking “a custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lung.” Thought he did understand how addictive this substance was: “he that taketh tobacco saith he cannot leave it, it doth bewitch him.” Outside of Europe smoking was considered a western influence and was punished by the law, especially in Russia, China, Turkey, and Japan. But by the end of the seventeenth century everyone realized it was impossible to stop people from smoking, and penalties for tobacco use gradually vanished.

There’s different ways to ingest tobacco. One of the earliest forms was snuffing, or grinding a mixture of tobacco into a fine powder, placing or sniffing a punch into the nose, and exhaling it with a sneeze. In the 1700’s snuffing became the dominant form of tobacco use, especially in the French aristocracy, considering that sneeze a way to free your head from demons. It’s also pretty common for people to chew tobacco and spit it out, called dipping. Of course ingesting tobacco without smoke is no better than smoking, since other forms of cancer or diseases could arise. Still, the most common way is to smoke either thru cigars or cigarettes.

Tobacco consists of a lot of components, with three most important ones: carbon monoxide, tar, and nicotine.

  • Carbon Monoxide is an odorless, colorless, tasteless, but extraordinarily toxic gas. It’s formed when tobacco burns because the oxidation process is incomplete. It’s dangerous because it easily attaches itself to hemoglobin, the protein inside red blood cells, which are reserved for the transport of oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.
  • Tar is a collection of compounds, it’s quantity varies from 12 to 16 mg per cigarette and the last third of the cigarette contains about 50% of the tar. The main problem is that it’s so sticky it adheres to cells in the lungs and airways leading to them. Tar gets in the way of specialized cells for cleaning lungs, called cilia, so they can no longer function effectively.
  • Nicotine is a toxic, dependance-producing psychoactive drug found exclusively in tobacco. A pure drop of nicotine, of about 60 mg, on the tongue would instantly kill a healthy adult. 2-8 mg of nicotine is ingested per day for a pack-a-day smoker. Inhaled nicotine from smoking is absorbed extremely rapidly, passing through the blood-brain barrier and blood-placental barrier in pregnant women in a few seconds. The speed of nicotine would be much slower if not for the presence of ammonia as an addictive tobacco blend. The mixture of ammonia and nicotine increases the availability of nicotine in the blood, very similar to addition of alkaline materials like baking soda to cocaine to create crack cocaine. The effects of activating nicotinic receptors is the release of adrenaline which increases heart rate, to inhibit activity in the gastrointestinal system, reduction in muscle tone so that muscle tightness is decreased. Research has shown that smoking helps with sustain performance on monotonous tasks and improves short-term memory.

Titration Hypothesis proposes the idea that smokers adjust their smoking behavior to obtain a stable dose of nicotine from whatever cigarettes they are smoking. So by switching to lower nicotine content cigarettes (such as slims), they end up smoking more cigarettes to keep the same dose of nicotine in their bodies.

First time smokers often react to a cigarette with some nausea, dizziness, or vomiting. As tolerance develops, these effects typically disappear. The most evident dependance-related effect of smoking can be seen during withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms often include headache, inability to concentrate, irritability, drowsiness, and fatigue over the first 24 hours.

The adverse health consequences of tobacco use can be classified in three broad categories: cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and cancer. Smoking related deaths account to nearly one out of every five deaths in the USA every year, about 1,200 deaths a day. A person’s life is shortened by fourteen minutes with each cigarette, and smoking a pack a day for twenty years would account for four years lost. Most of the smokers start smoking at a very young age, mainly during their teenage years, some even as early as the fifth grade.

Types of cancer over the years which developed due to smoking:

In the 1920’s smoking was considered a “man’s privilege”, so during the uprise of female empowerment, women picked up the habit as well. Unfortunately, smoking affects women physically more than men. Women who smoke have a more than three times greater risk of dying from a stroke due to brain hemorrhaging and an almost two times greater risk of dying from a heart attack. If women smoke while taking birth control pills, the risk increases to twenty-two times and twenty times, respectively. Numerous problems could arise after giving birth even if the mother didn’t smoke during pregnancy.

The environment also takes a tole. Besides from the fact that cigarette butts can be found virtually anywhere, and they take a while to naturally decompose, the air gets horrifyingly polluted due to tobacco smoke. Around three-fourths of the nicotine originating from second-hand smoke end up in the atmosphere. Nonsmokers usually end up inhaling as much of n-nitrosamine (group of carcinogens) in one hour in a very smoky room as will a smoker after smoking ten to fifteen cigarettes.

The prevalence of smoking in many foreign countries far exceeds that of the USA, with much less concern from the public due to lack of awareness. In Japan, 53% of all adult men smoke cigarettes, and in China approximately 67% of all Chinese men smoke regularly. It’s clear that tobacco use on a global scale presents one of the most significant public health challenges we face in the 21st century. What’s even worse, global approaches to reducing the deadly effects of tobacco use are discouragingly weak of absent. Only 5% of the world’s population lives in a country in which there’s full support to treat tobacco dependence.

If you’re a coffee lover than you might be urged to quit due to this fact: Smokers eliminate caffeine from their bloodstream about 100% more quickly than nonsmokers. Thus, on average they experience the effect of caffeine they consume for a relatively shorter period of time, and end up drinking more coffee. So imagine how much money you would save on cigarettes AND coffee if you quit, and how much better your body would feel with less nicotine and caffeine in the bloodstream.

As hard as it is to quit though, it’s very possible, and is very encouraged. There are a lot of benefits to quitting, and a lot of the damage can be undone.

I myself grew up in Easter Europe, where smoking among teenagers is prevalent. I started smoking at a young age, and to this day I am haunted by the need for nicotine. When I read the research foe the first time, I was so shocked, that I decided to quit. May 23rd was my first day I quit smoking (not for the first time) and hopefully it will stick. I recommend getting an app called Smoke Free for iOS and Android. So far, I haven’t smoked, and I’m not planning on it. I think the number one step to quitting should be educating yourself on the harms of nicotine. See some tips for quitting smoking below.

I urge every smoker to learn more about what they’re doing to themselves, and together as a group we can put an end to this disgusting habit. If you decide to quit, let me know, so we can all support each other through these rough couple of months. I hope this article helped you get on a better path in life.

Graphs & Citations:

Levinthal, Charles F. Drugs, Society, and Criminal Justice. Pearson, 2016.

Jarvik, Biological Influences, Schuckit, Drugs and Alcohol Abuse.

Payne and Hahn, Understanding Your Health.

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