Why Do Smokers Smoke?
The other night I was eating with a friend in a local restaurant—non-smoking of course—and had occasion to observe my fellow diners. There was a party of what are known in Japan as ‘salarymen’ (company employees), consisting of about ten middle-aged people who were evidently enjoying themselves with good food and drink and animated conversation. But in the middle of this pleasant activity, two of them twice got up and went outside for about five minutes. They each had a cigarette pack in their hand as they were leaving, so it was obvious they were going out for a smoke.
Why did they do that?
If you want to understand how to quit smoking easily this is a very important question!
If one had asked them they would most probably have said ‘I felt like having a cigarette.’ All right, but why did they feel like having a cigarette in the middle of a nice dinner? And the feeling was apparently so strong that they temporarily abandoned their companions to go out into the cold to inhale poisonous fumes into their lungs.
If one had had the opportunity to question them further, it would have emerged that they were feeling uncomfortable, that is, mildly anxious and tense. And when they had smoked a cigarette they felt better, for a while, and could re-join the party, but about forty minutes later they did it again.
Why did a feeling of discomfort come upon them in the middle of a pleasant social occasion? The answer is nicotine withdrawal.
The sequence is: smoke → nicotine level up, feel comfortable → forty minutes later, nicotine level down, feel uncomfortable → smoke → repeat indefinitely.
But what would happen to the uncomfortable feeling if the smoker did not put more nicotine into his or her body by smoking another cigarette? It would go away. And never come back—unless they put more nicotine into their bodies.
If you’re a smoker reading this you will probably say, ‘That makes sense, but it can’t be that simple to stop smoking.’
(The picture is The Smokers by Adriaen Brouwer, circa 1605/1606–1638)
Text © Gabriel Symonds