The science behind why it is so difficult to quit smoking is crystal clear: Nicotine is addictive – reportedly addictive as cocaine or heroin.
Yet every adult can walk to a drugstore and buy a pack of cigarettes without asking questions.
"From a scientific point of view, nicotine is just as difficult, or harder, to stop than heroin, but people do not recognize it," says Dr. Neil Benowitz, a nicotine visitor at the University of California, San Francisco.
Smoking is the world's foremost avoidable cause of death. Worldwide, more than 1.1 billion people smoke according to the World Health Organization. And there are more and more. Every day in the US alone, more than 3 200 young people 18 and younger smoke their first cigarette, while another 2 100 young people and young adults occasionally smoke a daily habit.
In 1964 the famous report & # 39; Smoking & Health & # 39; of the surgeon general of the United States smoking in connection with cancer. Two decades later, in 1988, another important report from the surgeon on nicotine addiction explained nicotine to be as addictive as cocaine or heroin.
"Every drug of abuse, including nicotine, releases dopamine, making it pleasant to use," said Dr. Benowitz. "And if you stop smoking, you have a lack of dopamine release, which causes a state of dysphoria: you feel anxious or depressed."
Nicotine also acts as a stimulant, said Dr. Benowitz. "It helps people to concentrate and if they do not have a cigarette, they have trouble concentrating."
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) intends to introduce new rules that would reduce the nicotine content in tobacco products to "minimally addictive" or "non-addictive" levels. It is not clear when the FDA will make its new statement.
Dr. Benowitz said he is "cautiously optimistic" that the FDA will force tobacco companies not to make cigarettes addictive. "If they did, I think this would really be the end of the cigarette epidemic," he said.
Meanwhile, the debate is raging over the increasingly popular e-cigarettes, which are being marketed as a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes. E-cigarette does not contain as many toxic chemicals as the smoke from ordinary cigarettes. However, most e-cigarettes contain nicotine and some supply hazardous chemicals such as formaldehyde.
Critics of e-cigarettes complain that makers put them on the market for young people by selling them in all kinds of child-friendly flavors, from pizza to cookies and cream.
"We still need a lot of studies on all these chemicals," Dr. Benowitz. "E-cigarettes can do some damage that we do not know yet."
Many people notice that they can not stop smoking independently. Dr. Benowitz said that nicotine patches, nicotine gums and medication to stop smoking are all proven ways to increase a person's chances of stopping. Support groups and stop lines can also help.
Gary A Giovino, a nicotine researcher at the New York State University in Buffalo, said that he can be as useful as medication, people who really want to quit smoking must also be prepared to change their lifestyle.
"People need to focus on behavioral change … they need the right skills and knowledge and social support, they need a plan," said Giovino, a professor and chair of the Community Health and Health Behavior Department of his school, which 40 quit smoking years ago.
Giovino said that good nutrition can be an important factor in helping people stop. He hopes to start an investigation into the question of whether there is a link between the vitamin D content of smokers and their ability to quit smoking. He said he would also like to see researchers investigate whether plant diets, B vitamins and hydration affect nicotine addiction.
Giovino advises people to use the "connection between mind and body" and try yoga and deep breathing techniques to help them stop. "After a meal, instead of taking a long time on a cigarette (try a smoker), take a deep breath and exhale without the 7,000 chemicals," he said.
It is also important for those who have decided to stop to prepare for how difficult it will be, said Giovino.
"There is a real roller coaster ride where you do not feel well and you do not feel irritable and do not feel like snacking," he said. "The first days can be very intense, then it can flatten out and come back again, but the longer your cigarettes pull out, the more your brain goes through the process of neural adjustment, the more you recover.
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