Tobacco — what a controversial and complex little plant. Historically, it has been an important substance for ritual and for social use, and it has served as an economically vital crop through much of our nation’s past, particularly in the South. Currently, it is one of just a few mind-altering substances that are legal for the purposes of recreational use.
Of course, we also know it is habit forming. It can promote cancerous cell mutations, inhibit the human body’s ability to suppress tumors, and it contributes to heart disease in many people. It destroys lung function in many people, leading to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and emphysema, causing folks to labor terribly to breathe, often needing supplemental oxygen and often ending in death.
That isn’t an exhaustive list, by any means. We don’t really need to go into that, as I have never really talked to anyone who thinks that smoking is a healthy act. Most folks know the risks associated with smoking. Yet many begin or continue tobacco use, and although rates are declining, they still average about 20 percent of the adult population nationally. That’s about 1 in 5.
Not all, in fact not even most, tobacco users will experience the health effects listed above. But many will — it is analogous to Russian roulette. When you choose to smoke, you don’t know if there is a bullet in the chamber — but you know there might be. So why do people do it?
I have worked with a lot of smokers over the years, and I don’t think there is one reason. I think, though, that at the forefront for most folks is this simple fact: quitting smoking can be really quite terrible. People start for all kinds of reasons but most start before they even turn 18. How many of us can say we were great decision makers when we were that age? But one of the primary reasons that people do not stop is that it is difficult, painful and requires a great deal of focus. Of course, it is not like life stops when one is trying to quit, either — you’ve got to deal with the day-in-day-out challenges of work, family, etc., while trying to focus on staying tobacco-free.
It is a tall order.
If you smoke, and would like to learn more about quitting, you can visit my website or give me a call. Quitting smoking has been a major area of focus for me, as I spent three years managing the tobacco recovery program at the tri-county community mental health center that I worked for in Colorado. Quitting smoking can be tough, but counseling has been shown to be helpful for many people struggling to kick the habit.