Unravelling the complexities behind why people smoke

Author : Dr. Pavan Yadav 

Lead Consultant - Interventional Pulmonology & Lung Transplantation, Aster RV Hospital


Smoking has long been a subject of concern and intrigue. Despite the well-documented health risks associated with tobacco use, a significant portion of the population continues to smoke. To truly understand this behavior, we need to delve into the complex web of factors that contribute to the allure and addiction of smoking. Let’s try to explore the various reasons why people smoke, shedding light on the psychological, social, and biological factors that underlie this habit.

Social Influences

One of the prominent reasons people start smoking is social influence. Peer pressure, societal norms, and the desire to fit in can drive individuals to pick up a cigarette. Smoking is often portrayed as glamorous, rebellious, or socially acceptable in certain circles, creating a sense of belonging or a way to assert independence.

Stress and Coping Mechanism

Smoking is frequently used as a coping mechanism to deal with stress, anxiety, and other negative emotions. Nicotine, the addictive substance in cigarettes, stimulates the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. This temporary relief from stress can create a psychological dependence, making it challenging to quit.

Addiction and Nicotine Dependency

The addictive nature of nicotine plays a crucial role in why people continue to smoke. Nicotine affects the brain by binding to receptors and releasing neurotransmitters that lead to a sense of relaxation, increased focus, and reduced appetite. Over time, the body develops a physical and psychological dependence on nicotine, making it difficult to break free from the habit.

Rituals and Habits

Smoking often becomes ingrained in daily routines and rituals, further solidifying its hold on individuals. Lighting up a cigarette after a meal, during breaks, or with a cup of coffee can become automatic behaviors deeply embedded in a smoker's routine. Breaking these associations can be a significant challenge when attempting to quit smoking.

Advertising and Marketing

For decades, tobacco companies employed aggressive marketing strategies to promote smoking. Although regulations have become stricter in many countries, the impact of past marketing efforts cannot be understated. Images of tobacco use in films, advertisements, and media have created an aura of allure, sophistication, and relaxation associated with smoking.

Curiosity and Experimentation

Some individuals may start smoking out of curiosity or as an act of rebellion. Experimenting with cigarettes can be seen as a way to test boundaries, assert independence, or rebel against authority figures. Unfortunately, this initial experimentation can quickly spiral into addiction, as the allure of smoking takes hold.

Smoking has far-reaching consequences beyond the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. It is associated with several other health conditions, including:

·         Cancer: Besides lung cancer, smoking is linked to an increased risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, pancreas, bladder, kidney, cervix, and stomach, among others.

·         Reproductive Health: Smoking can affect fertility in both men and women, increase the risk of miscarriage, preterm birth, stillbirth, and complications during pregnancy. It is also associated with decreased sperm quality in men.

·         Dental and Oral Health: Smoking stains teeth, causes bad breath, and contributes to gum disease, tooth loss, and oral cancer. (The author has his own study and views)