For example, even Dr Robert Proctor, who knows a thing or two about smoking and the tricks of the tobacco trade – he wrote a book running to 737 pages on the subject (Golden Holocaust, 2011) – doesn’t appear to know much about smokers. I have a great respect for him but he is an historian, not a smoking cessation counsellor. This no doubt explains him writing stuff such as
…the other reasons [apart from addiction] people smoke – to ponder the wafting of the fumes, for example, or to obtain some form of oral gratification. Or to emulate [the actor] Johnny Depp or [the actress] Keira Knightley. (Tobacco Control, September 2017)
Do smokers say, as reasons for smoking, that they love to ponder the wafting of the fumes, they obtain oral gratification and they can imagine they are like their favourite film stars, as being so important they would risk disease and death rather than give these up?
Then we have two medical academics, Lynne Dawkins and Hayden McRobbie, who say in a report for The British Psychological Society (August 2017) that
Cigarette smoking delivers a high level of nicotine to the brain very quickly…which immediately activates the brain chemical, dopamine. Because other stimuli (e.g. the handling of the cigarette, the ‘catch’ of smoke in the throat) are associated with this effect of nicotine, they too can become pleasurable in their own right, contributing to smoking addiction.
I do not know if Drs Dawkins and McRobbie have personally treated any smokers, but is it really true that smokers say, when asked why they smoke, that the handling of cigarettes and the ‘catch’ of the smoke in the throat are so pleasurable that they would rather risk death and disease than give these up?
And as for the speed of delivery of nicotine to the brain allegedly activating dopamine as a reason for addiction, this implies smokers smoke because they are addicted to the pleasure they experience from smoking that is mediated by dopamine.
Do smokers smoke, then, to achieve a state of bliss, some wonderful orgasmic sensation or pleasure of any sort? If you talk to smokers they don’t say this. What they do say is that they feel better immediately after smoking than they did before. In other words, what they are seeking is the speedy – almost immediate – relief of the discomfort they were in as a result of nicotine withdrawal.
This is the reason – and for the practical purpose of helping smokers to quit – the only reason smokers smoke.
It is, therefore, pointless and counterproductive for academic researchers to become exercised over pondering the wafting of the fumes, oral gratification or experiencing that horrid ‘catch’ in the throat. These are incidental to the means smokers use in order to obtain rapid relief of the discomfort of nicotine withdrawal – they are not reasons of themselves for smoking.
Text © Gabriel Symonds