Smoking is widely practised around the world. Find out about tobacco smoking and why so many people — adults, parents and teenagers alike — smoke, despite the known risks and effects.

What is smoking?

Smoking is a common practice whereby a drug or substance is burned, usually wrapped in paper, and the smoke is either just tasted or breathed in and inhaled.

The lung walls are extremely thin, so the drug is passed from the lungs into the blood supply, back to the heart and then around the body. The effects of smoking will therefore be determined by what was smoked and how much. As all blood supply reaches the brain quickly from the heart and lungs, the effects of smoking are usually felt pretty quickly.

What is the history of smoking?

It is quite interesting to look at the background of smoking. After all it is thought that over one billion people smoke tobacco world wide – that’s pretty powerful marketing and revenue from a practice that is so highly frowned upon in Westernised societies.

It has been practised for centuries, but only became widespread in European societies after it was ‘discovered’ in America. In other countries, in Africa and India, tobacco smoking was integrated with pre existing smoking of other substances, such as cannabis.

What do people smoke and why?

Smoking generally refers to tobacco smoking, although other drugs may be smoked also:

  • Heroin and crack cocaine are highly addictive and can both be smoked
  • Cannabis is though to be less harmful, but is nonetheless illegal in New Zealand

The incidence of smoking illegal drugs is far rarer than smoking cigarettes and yet gets far more media coverage, often sensationalist.

Who remembers their first cigarette? Most people report feeling dizzy and nauseated! Quite horrid really and yet so many go on to try it again and again until it feels quite normal and in fact quite difficult not to smoke. It’s addictive. Highly addictive. Yet most people do take a fair amount of perseverance to become addicted, as it is really quite unpleasant to begin with. There is a certain amount of ‘cool’ about smoking – teenagers often perceive smokers as looking more grown up, therefore it is done to increase street cred. This is not the case in many teenage groups though, as fashion now dictates that it is smelly and unattractive to smoke in some groups. The effect of peer pressure cannot be under estimated among young people.

There has also been great media pressure to smoke. Film stars promoted it as part of the cool factor and there is much advertising world wide to promote cigarettes and branding.

What are the advantages of smoking?

There are no known physical or medical advantages to smoking tobacco.

What are the disadvantages of smoking?

  • It is unhealthy, undoubtedly
  • It reduces sports performance and can make a smoker feel quite breathless even after normal exertion, such as climbing stairs
  • It is smelly, particularly as it lingers on breath and clothes
  • Nicotine stains your fingers an ugly yellow colour
  • It is very expensive as many countries now place high taxes on cigarettes.

Consider $10/day –

That’s $70 a week –

That’s $300 per month –

And a staggering $3,650 a year!

Think of the DVDs, sports gear, cars or holidays you could have instead.

  • It is becoming unsociable in many groups
  • It is addictive, so people will often spend money on cigarettes rather than on food and drink. This is common among teenagers – spending their lunch money on cigarettes – who can actually become quite undernourished as a result.

What are the risks and effects of smoking?

  • Smoking has now been proved to be a major cause of lung cancer, heart attack and chronic obstructive airways disease.
  • Smoking increases your susceptibility to coughs and colds and also increases the chance that they will linger as chest infections
  • Smoking causes early wrinkle lines and yellow teeth
  • Due to increased knowledge around passive smoking it is seen as anti social in many countries. Here in New Zealand, and more recently in UK, smoking is banned inside public places.
  • Smoking tobacco has been shown to be harmful to unborn babies, causing prematurity and low birth weight.
  • Smoking is closely linked to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or cot death.
  • Smoking causes asthma in adults and children who live in smoky environments
  • Smoking tobacco is highly addictive, even more so, it is thought, than heroin! Once a person is hooked it is extremely difficult to quit. Most smokers start before they are 18 years old, so just giving it a go in your teens is pretty risky. You may easily get addicted.

The social, financial and physical costs of smoking are well known.

Just don’t start!

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Paula Skelton is a qualified NZ nurse and midwife, a midwifery & childbirth educator and the mum of three lovely girls.

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