Tobacco is a financially profitable plant that is grown in countries around the world, including the United States. It stimulates the nervous system and has some psychoactive properties that are due, in part, to a chemical that is found in tobacco called nicotine. Nicotine is a very addictive chemical and is one of the primary reasons why people find it difficult to stop using tobacco products, particularly cigarettes. People who are unable to stop the use of tobacco, even knowing that it is causing them harm, are suffering from nicotine addiction or nicotine dependency.
According to the Mayo Clinic, nicotine dependence is also known as tobacco dependence, and it is an addiction to tobacco and the chemical nicotine. Because nicotine is a stimulant, tobacco products like cigarettes can cause a person to have health problems such as high blood pressure, lung irritation, cancer of the lungs, mouth, esophagus, or throat, stroke, and an increased risk of heart disease. Despite these problems, which are widely documented and well-known by most users, a large number of people around the world continue to use tobacco products. In the United States, current statistics estimate that 42 million adults are cigarette smokers. Smoking of cigarettes in this country is also the cause of one out of every five deaths.
The history of tobacco and its habitual use dates back as far as 6000 B.C., which is when it is believed that the tobacco plant began to grow in the Americas. Around 1 B.C., early Native Americans discovered uses for tobacco in the form of chewing and smoking. Tobacco and its use spread until it could be found in nearly all parts of the Americas, with inhabitants using it for a variety of purposes ranging from relaxation to religious ceremonies. It was introduced to Christopher Columbus in 1492, and it was taken to Europe by a Spanish monk named Ramon Pane, who traveled with Columbus. Once in Europe, tobacco gained in popularity, primarily for its supposed medicinal purposes. The use of and demand for tobacco in Europe led to the growing of tobacco crops. Eventually, tobacco’s popularity made its way back to North America, where in 1612, Virginia became the location of the first commercial crop to be highly successful. Tobacco crops were very profitable, so much that it was even used as a form of currency at times. In addition, it was also helpful in funding the Revolutionary War. The demand for tobacco was also one of the reasons behind the rising demand for slaves in the 18th century.
By the 1800s, the health risks of tobacco use were first discovered, as was the presence of nicotine in 1809. This did not, however, put a stop to its use, as cigars grew increasingly popular in Europe. It did, however, result in the creation of new laws and even the beginnings of an anti-tobacco movement in the United States. During the Civil War, in 1862, tobacco was used as a means to fund the war when it was taxed for the first time. Following the war, cigarette use began to grow, and by the early 1900s, cigarette-smoking was ever more popular. Discoveries made in 1930s Germany, however, connected cigarettes with lung cancer for the first time. Later in the 1930s, doctors made note of the decrease in life expectancy that was also associated with tobacco and smoking.
Public knowledge regarding the danger of cancer did not become widespread until the 1950s. While this affected sales at the time, the tobacco industry remained relatively unscathed until the 1964 release of a report by the Surgeon General’s Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health that clearly stated that cancer in men was related to casual smoking. The release of this report has since led to improved labeling, changes in smoking laws, and further research on cigarette smoke and tobacco.
Today, tobacco is used in several ways and forms. It is generally smoked, chewed, snorted, or dissolved in the mouth. Tobacco products include cigarettes, loose pipe tobacco, cigars, snuff, and chewing tobacco. The most popular form and use of tobacco worldwide is cigarettes.
Nicotine is known to increase neurotransmitters such as dopamine in the brain. Mood is regulated by neurotransmitters, which can influence one’s behavior. With dopamine, feelings of pleasure are increased. The pleasurable response is a very temporary one, however, and this leads to the desire for more nicotine. There is also a certain amount of behavioral pleasure that comes from smoking. This form of pleasure stems from the touch, sight, and smell of smoking and is yet another part of the addiction.
The most basic way to stop one’s addiction to tobacco and nicotine is to stop smoking. Ninety percent of the time, people who stop smoking do so cold turkey; however, this is a difficult path to take. Withdrawal symptoms elevate the desire for another smoke and decrease the chances of success for many who try to stop without any support or treatment. Withdrawal symptoms associated with nicotine addiction include anxiety, disturbances in one’s ability to sleep, increased hunger, cravings, depression, and irritability. These symptoms typically start within a few hours of the last cigarette and worsen the longer one goes without using tobacco products. Studies show that of the people who attempt to simply stop smoking without assistance, 85 percent resume smoking as soon as one week from the time they stopped. For some people, nicotine replacement sprays, patches, and gum can help stop the addiction. This type of therapy provides a very minimal amount of nicotine, just enough to prevent the symptoms of withdrawal. These remedies are not always successful, however, as they do not address the behavioral needs that some associate with the act of smoking. Other treatments are also helpful and may even be used in addition to nicotine replacement. Counseling or group therapy are traditional addiction treatment methods. Smoking cessation programs are often offered at medical facilities such as hospitals and offices. Acupuncture and hypnosis are alternative methods that some may find success with.
Read more about tobacco/nicotine addiction and addiction treatment by reviewing the following list of links:
- How is Tobacco Used?
- Types of Tobacco Use
- Understanding Nicotine Addiction
- Why is it so Hard to Quit?
- Understanding Nicotine Addiction and Tobacco (PDF)
- Are There Other Chemicals That May Contribute to Tobacco Addiction?
- Nicotine Addiction and Your Health
- Nicotine Dependence
- Understanding Nicotine Withdrawal: The Basics
- Diseases and Conditions: Nicotine Addiction
- Nicotine and Tobacco
- Guide to Quitting Smoking (PDF)
- Do I Have Nicotine Withdrawal?
- Tobacco: The Early History of a New World Crop
- Smokeless Tobacco: Tips on How to Stop
- Smokeless Tobacco: A Guide for Quitting
- Addicted: Why Do People Get Hooked?
- Understanding Addiction
- Cigarette-Smoking Among Adults
- Tobacco (PDF)