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Stoptober: How do I stop smoking?

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Why do people smoke?

Here are some facts and figures about smoking in the UK, based on data from ASH (Action on Smoking and Health). Approximately 9 million adults in the UK smoke and two-thirds of smokers started the habit before the age of 18. Smoking-related diseases cost the NHS over £2 billion each year. There is a strong correlation with income; smoking rates are much higher among poor people.

However, the prevalence of smoking has declined dramatically since 1974 when 51% of men and 41% of women regularly smoked.

This downward trend is due to hugely successful government-sponsored mass media campaigns, the passing of legislation making it illegal to smoke in public places including nightclubs, restaurants and pubs, and the fact that cigarettes can no longer be advertised.

Yet there are still many people in our country who are still addicted to smoking. Everyone knows what the consequences of smoking are, so it is interesting to explore the reasons why people continue to smoke.

Why do people actually smoke? Here are six major reasons for a smoking addiction at a glance:

1. Peer pressure

Smokers often start the habit in their teens. During puberty the urge to fit in is enormous. If your friends, classmates or role-models smoke, you have to be very strong-minded to not want to join in. Teenagers don’t want to be viewed as a ‘weirdo’ who won’t try new things – and, despite all the public health education, smoking is still viewed by many teens as edgy and cool. Peer pressure is one of the main reasons for starting smoking.

2. Social rewards

Now that the smoking ban has made it very difficult to smoke in public, smokers form a separate and often tight-knit community. They are literally separated from the rest and have to pop out for a fag outside or in a special room. Smokers see each other as rebellious comrades and fellow sufferers. Anyone who approaches a complete stranger with the words ‘have you got a light?’ can count on at least a glance of understanding. This is called social reward: you are accepted into a special group, which feels nice and secure.

3. Risky behaviour

Smoking is also seen as risky behaviour, which is very appealing to many young people. This group is eager to challenge parental authority, patronizing (in their eyes) advice from the government and boring school rules. Smoking is their way of opposing the authorities. The fact that smoking is ‘forbidden’ and is labelled as dangerous is exactly what makes it such an exciting habit.

4. As a remedy

Many people use a cigarette as a kind of medicine. They believe that smoking helps them to become calmer, to reduce bloating after eating or to concentrate better. In addition, smoking literally gives you something to do. It also helps against boredom.

5. Smoking runs in the family

If parents smoke, it is more likely that their children will also smoke. Several studies have proven this. The likelihood is still increased if mum and dad have already stopped smoking, or if smoking is not seen as an unacceptable habit; for example, if the parents allow visitors to freely smoke in the house.

6. Genetically determined

Some people are more sensitive to nicotine addiction than others. This is caused by genes that play a role in the transmission of signals in the brain. If you have inherited a certain variant of these genes, you are more likely to be addicted to tobacco, as well as alcohol and drugs.

How do I stop smoking?

That’s enough about the reasons why people smoke! ‘How can I stop smoking?’ is the question on many smokers’ lips. Unfortunately, starting smoking is much easier than quitting smoking because the body quickly learns to depend on nicotine.

The good news: you can kick the habit with the right help. Read our tips to stop smoking for good.

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