…cigarettes years ago. To be precise I stopped in January 2006. In my “Humble Beginnings part 2” post I told how I started the addiction. Yes, I really believe smoking cigarettes is an addiction. I tried for years not to give in, told myself that I could quit at any time. But when I almost panicked one evening, when I realised I had very little shag (rolling tobacco) left and the stores were already closed for that day and the next, I knew lady nicotine had me fully in her grasp..
So what is nicotine exactly? Nicotine is the natural protection of the tobacco plant from being eaten by insects. Yes, insecticides were made from it. It is a very, very strong toxin. It is more lethal than strychnine or rattlesnake venom and three times deadlier than arsenic! Yet amazingly, pure by chance, this natural insecticide’s chemical signature is very similar to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Acetylwhat?? Please look it up on wikipedia as my chemical knowledge is almost non-existent.. But once nicotine is inside the brain it fits a host of chemical “locks”. Thus permitting it direct and indirect control over the flow of more than 200 neuro-chemicals, most importantly dopamine.
Ok… And what the hell is dopamine? It is the brain’s primary motivation neurotransmitter (a chemical substance that transmits nerve impulses across a synapse). The dopamine pathways of the brain serve as a built-in teacher. It uses a desire, yearning or wanting sensation to get our attention when it wants to pound home a survival lesson necessary to keep us humans alive and thriving. Ever wondered why it is so hard to go without eating? To actually starve yourself to death or to die of thirst? Why do we seek acceptance from other people, want companionship and desire a mate or sexual relations? Why do we feel anxiety when bored and an “aaahh” sense of relief when we complete a task? Remember that “aaahh” sensation? That was dopamine, the satisfaction of your wanting, craving to succeed. The deep inner primitive brain is hard-wired via dopamine pathways, to keep us drinking liquids, fed, together (there’s safety in numbers), while achieving and reproducing.
But there our brain does not stop. It makes sure that we don’t forget those activities so that in the future we pay close attention to them. The brain records how “wanting” was satisfied in the most durable, high-definition memory the mind may be capable of generating. It does so by hard-wiring dopamine pathway neuro-transmissions into our brains conscious memory banks.
This is what nicotine does: Once introduced into the bloodstream, it is small enough to pass through the protective blood/brain barrier. And then once inside the brain it is somehow able to activate and turn on our mind’s dopamine pathway circuitry. Thus hijacking the mind’s priorities teacher. So with continuing chemical use (read: smoking) this results in the person becoming totally yet falsely convinced, that using more nicotine is as important as eating food. Very simplified it comes to this: Hunger for food, hunger for nicotine. Food craves, nicotine craves. “Aaahh” wanting satisfaction while taking bites, “aaahh” wanting satisfaction while re-filling nicotine reserves. Welcome to the addicts world of nicotine..
All does not explain why users initially continue using nicotine, prior to a growing pile of dopamine pathway high-definition use memories begging them to use more. Nor does it explain why most regular nicotine users get hooked but not all. Every person is different, it is a question of genetics and of willpower. Because how strong our brains tells us to do something, we can still choose to ignore it. How difficult that may be..
And difficult it was in my case.. Like I said in my “Humble Beginnings part 2” post I grew tired long ago of the nicotine addiction. When I went away from house I checked my pockets for my wallet, shag and lighter. If one of those elements were missing I head back, no matter where I was. If I knew I was going somewhere where smoking was not allowed I tried to smoke as much as possible in advance. If I thought there was even a slight possibility of running out of shag I brought a spare pouch along. When I had a cold I did not smoke through the worst part but as soon as I got even a tiny bit better I lit up a cigarette. In that time I still lived with my parents who “luckily” allowed indoor smoking despite my father being a hart-patient! I smoked in the living-room, in my hobby-room and sometimes even in my bedroom. Ab-so-lu-tely nuts when I think of it now..
I also did not like the damage I was doing to my body. I practised fitness quite a lot in those days so my physical condition was pretty good. Despite that I gradually developed an annoying smokers-cough. I also sang a lot and when each year of smoking passed by I noticed that my vocal range got worse and my voice got tired sooner. One time when my mother wanted to air my pillow she saw a big brown stain on it. Apparently I was drooling in my sleep and my saliva was polluted with tar..
Lately I watched a video from the History Channel about tobacco. I saw how cigarettes were made, please watch the fragment below:
I was flabbergasted when I saw what exactly was inside a cigarette.. So much junk! And then to think you inhale that smoke deep into your lungs.. I am not saying that smoking pipe is good, smoking is bad, but it is a lot better than smoking cigarettes! Actually I already knew there was garbage in a cigarette. Last year when I visited the DTM factory in Lauenburg, Germany I talked with masterblender Andreas Mund. He smoked rolling tobacco he made himself, he actually gave me a big bag (which I gave away to friends who still smoked cigarettes). “Here”, he said, “much better than cigarettes made elsewhere. There’s real crap in those, this rolling tobacco just exists of pure Virginias, nothing else!” I was curious so I rolled a cigarette and lit it, of course I did not inhale. Yuk, gross!! I only tasted the rolling tobacco paper and barely anything else. I could not imagine I smoked that for years and years. From those still smoking friends I heard the DTM rolling tobacco was a bit harsh but very smokeable.
A big reason beside the other ones for me to stop smoking cigarettes was my first girlfriend. I always have been a late-bloomer. And she was absolutely disgusted with my habit. “Yuk, it’s just like licking out an ashtray!” she used to shout at me when we kissed. I can’t say I blame her, she was right of course. Just after New Year 2006 I decided to get rid of the addiction. But I felt I needed something more, something that could serve as a threat. As it happened to be my ex also had a nasty habit which I hated, she used to cut herself. So we made a deal, I said to her “If you stop cutting yourself I stop smoking. When one of us has a relapse the other must smoke or cut in front of the other..” A kind of sinister pact but we both agreed. Needless to say I smoked my last cigarette in the car on my way to the office the next morning and never relapsed. I had stopped cold turkey.
This is not going to help someone who wants to quit smoking, but my first week of stopping was pure hell.. At work I made an announced to my colleagues that I no longer smoked and brought lots of candies with me to “survive” the days. You see, quitting does not make you fat, it is all the stuff you eat afterwards! Also your taste buds are becoming better again so food just tastes better and you eat more of it. Anyway, those first days my mind and body just were on survival mode. Do not smoke.. Do not smoke.. I’ll have a candy.. Aahhh…. Do not smoke.. Do not smoke.. I never had so much trouble to not do something. At the end of the first week I almost relapsed when I cycled past the shop where I always bought shag. Only the thought of my ex cutting herself in front of me held me back. After the first week the worst was over. The nicotine was out of my body and the cravings coming out of my mind were getting lesser. I won the fight…
…Until I lit up my first pipe years later. What a dumb-ass a lot of people will think, he quits and starts again! Yes, but not with cigarettes, with pipe-smoking. With cigarettes you inhale the smoke, so the intake of nicotine is much higher than with pipe-smoking where you let the smoke come in your mouth and no further. Well ok, nicotine is still being absorbed by the oral membranes but its effect is less, it is more controllable. So the big difference is that now I choose when I like to smoke. The cravings are gone. No time? Don’t smoke. In a place where you are not allowed to smoke? Don’t smoke. Just not really feel like smoking? Don’t smoke. As simple as that. When I now smoke I get real pleasure out of it most times. Of course the tobacco can not be so good, I can be (without knowing) at the beginning of a cold etc. etc. Point is, I now smoke because I like to, not because I have to.
I don’t want to say that you cigarette smokers must stop smoking. Your life, your body, your choice. I only want to say that for me smoking pipe works and that I am glad to be rid of cigarettes. If you decide to stop, stop cold turkey. All those stop-smoking-aids one can get are just an extension of your “suffering”, of your craving for nicotine. You only put money in the pocket of the companies who make those “aids”. And they prefer you not to stop smoking because then they can make money out of you again with your next attempt. Think about it and good luck!
A really thoughtful article on what can be quite an emotive subject. We are so used to hearing the medical profession tell us that smoking is smoking, and smoking is always bad. The intention behind the message is good, but it ignores the subtleties.
Thank you Arc. Well, smoking is always bad imho, but there are ways that are “less bad”. Like pipe smoking 🙂
If I put in all the subtleties the post would have become waaayy too long..
Can you QUIT?
Of course I can quit if I really want to. I quit smoking cigarettes once, which is much more addictive than pipe smoking. But right now I don’t want to quit smoking. Simply because I am enjoying it too much.