Smoking has got to be one of the worst afflictions man has brought upon himself. As Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland put it, “A cigarette is the only consumer product which when used as directed kills its consumer.” Of course, in the old days people didn’t even know that there was a connection between smoking and becoming ill not only through cancer, but also via a whole host of other diseases.

The four big killers from cigarette smoking are lung cancer, heart attack, stroke and Chronic Pulmonary Obstructive Disease or COPD. The lung cancer is not the only form of cancer that smokers put themselves at markedly higher risk of either.

Smokers represent 90% of all male lung cancer sufferers and 80% of all women lung cancer sufferers, of whom, 90% die within 5 years of diagnosis. Smoking also increases the risk of other cancers. Amongst the plethora of other diseases, smoking enhances the risk of cervical cancer, cancers of the mouth, lip and throat, cancer of the pancreas, bladder cancer, cancer of the kidney, stomach cancer, liver cancer and leukaemia.

Of course smokers are made totally aware of the illnesses that they risk as a result of their habit. Health warnings are emblazoned everywhere. Governments and health organisations around the world continue to berate smokers with warnings and images of the diseases they are risking as a result of smoking. The reason they argue being that smokers are intelligent and can make choices when given the appropriate evidence. As an ex-smoker (and a happy one at that), I disagree.

The problem with their argument is that these health organisations and governments think that smokers smoke out of choice. This is blatantly not so. To understand the flaw in this idea I suggest we do a little mental experiment:

Let us imagine we take a smoker and a non-smoker as our subjects. We then starve the subjects for 24 hours but give them water so they will not die. We then offer them some food of their individual choice, whether it be soup or stew or curry or cake, they get to choose. Then let us poison this food in front of each subject and tell the subject we are poisoning his or her food. Stick with me here… both of our subjects are famished and both know that their favourite food in front of them is laced with poison and will kill them if they eat it.

Which one is more likely to go ahead and eat the poisoned food, the smoker or the non-smoker?

Neither of them of course, but now ask yourself this question;

“Which one of them is no longer hungry because the food is poisoned?”

Do you see the problem? Just because something may be bad for you and you know that, does not necessarily mean you will not want it. Smoking is not a matter of choice, just as eating isn’t. Smoking to a smoker is a means of obtaining nicotine and the craving for that nicotine is going to be no less when you tell him or her that it’s delivered by a health destroying, cancer instigating, stroke inducing, emphysema causing, heart attack inducing cigarette.

Nicotine delivery is most effective when taken as smoke from cigarettes, rolling or pipe tobacco. It gets delivered fast to the bloodstream and fast to the brain where it is wanted. Nicotine patches, gums, sprays and inhalators all deliver nicotine but it takes several minutes for the delivery. Smoking takes less than 10 seconds to get the nicotine to the brain and that is important because the cravings are short lived but intense, hence smokers prefer to smoke than have a patch dribbling them a little of what they are addicted to.

Once you can understand that nicotine addiction is the problem and you understand that you must overcome that addiction, you build on your chances of becoming a happy non-smoker.

Part of the problem with the government sponsored and pharmaceutical company led solutions to smoking are that they re-enforce the belief that quitting smoking is difficult and they try to solve what they see as a problem of tobacco smoke by giving the addict the drug in a different form such as NRT.

For years now, NRT has been preached as the saviour of smokers around the world, just as methadone has been preached as the solution to heroin addiction. Neither are terribly effective at achieving the goal of bringing people back to normality; i.e. being nicotine or heroin free. Governments and health organisations need to think more about the addiction smokers have to cigarettes because of the nicotine than brow-beating them with bad news about the health effects.

Arguably 80% of smokers are motivated to quit smoking, but motive does not necessarily provide means and opportunity. If smoking is to be overcome, a smoker must not just “not want to smoke”, they must believe that they have no desire to smoke. Only once a smoker can lose the desire for cigarettes, can they become happy non-smokers. Understanding how they can reach the point of not desiring a cigarette is key in removing the perennial problem of relapsing Juul-smokers.