Saturday, 08 November 2008

Addictions: smoking

"Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I've done it thousands of times." Mark Twain's quote is one that is true for millions of smokers the world over. I too have given up smoking hundreds of times. Each time I decide that this time is for real. This time nothing will deter me.

Tobacco and its key addictive agent nicotine is said to be one of the most addictive substances known to man. During the course of my life I have come across many people with multitudes of addictions. Drug addicts manage to quit heroin but continue to smoke. Compulsive gamblers quit gambling but the smoking goes on. Alcoholics quit alcohol but seldom smoking.

Unlike narcotics, tobacco enjoys a status of legality. There are so many vested interests in the drug that banning it is virtually impossible. Governments rely on tobacco for vast amounts of revenue. Tobacco companies make huge donations to political parties. What government would even consider banning something that sustains one of the world's largest industries?

So tobacco remains legal. Even though it kills more people every year than cocaine, heroin, crack and all the other illegal drugs combined. Tobacco kills more people than alcohol, road accidents and wars.

Many see addiction as a factor of personality. In this view, some people are prone to addictions through inborn character traits. To them the problem is not the drug, it is the person. But there can be little doubt that some substances are extremely addictive. The tobacco companies rely on the addictive nature of cigarettes to ensure daily sales to millions of people.

My most successful attempt to conquer my tobacco addiction occurred many years ago. I used a combination of nicotine chewing gums and acupuncture. The combination worked very well. But a little image in my mind kept reminding me of the "pleasure" of smoking. A work cocktail party a year later provided an opportunity to have just one cigarette. It wasn't very enjoyable, but a few days later the craving had returned. The cigarettes became daily then hourly.

A colleague managed to stop for five years. He was over his addiction, but just one cigarette in a moment of sever stress was enough to reverse the process completely.

A relatively new method to quit smoking has emerged over the last few years. People using an antidepressant called Zyban somehow lost interest in smoking - even though there was no previous intention to quit. Research substantiated these findings, and the drug has become one of the most successful means used for quitters.

My latest attempt to quit has been achieved using this drug. Although I am still smoking, the drug enables me to spend the entire working day smoke-free. It is only at home where another smoker is present that my will power fails. But quit I will. I have said it before and I will say it again - I will not be a slave to tobacco for life.

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