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Why do people Smoke?

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Facts and figures about smoking

Here are some facts and figures about smoking in the UK, based on data from ASH (Action on Smoking and Health). Approximately nine 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 poorer sections of the population. 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 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?

There are six major reasons for a smoking addiction:

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 are doing it, you have to be very strong-minded not to want to join in. Teenagers do not want to be viewed as someone who refuses to 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.

Social rewards

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

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.

As a remedy

Many people use a cigarette as a type 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, and as such helps against boredom.

Smoking runs in the family

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


Some people are more sensitive to nicotine addiction than others, which 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?

While the reasons for smoking are many and varied, how to stop smoking is more difficult. Unfortunately, starting smoking is much easier than quitting, since the body quickly learns to depend on nicotine. The good news is that most people can kick the habit with the right help. Read our tips to stop smoking for good.

Sources, Ons, NHS, Public Health England

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