Friday, October 28, 2011

Smoking dissected

I always find it very interesting when educated people are misinformed about apparently simple things, either because somebody gave them the incorrect information or they simply misunderstood the facts. Here’s one example that I learned while talking to one of my colleague. He is a smoker and smokes between half a pack to 1 pack everyday. I was a chain smoker at one point of my life and successfully quit and stayed away for more than 16 years now (I still consider that as one of my biggest achievements) and do not let go any opportunity to preach others to quit. During my conversation with this colleague he mentioned about a medicine called Champix (do a search if you are interested to know further) that some of his friends used to quit smoking and got result. The medicine works in the brain to reduce cravings and also decreases the pleasure that people gets from smoking.

I did not know about this medicine. Seemed like a good alternative for people who are unable to quit using solely will power.

[Here’s how I quit: I smoked for many years and constantly suffered from bad coughs and throat issues. I was born and brought up in a third world country where smoking is one of the cheapest ways of entertainment (if we can call it that) and many are hooked into it from very early age. I have unsuccessfully tried once before to quit. The reason for failure was simple – too many people smoked around me. It became impossible to stay from the addictive smell of the cigarette smoke. Anyway, I was working in Boston at that time. I had just started my carrier there and was making just enough to make a living. I had a big burden of educational loan that I took from credit companies. One of my main goals was to save as much as I can, pay the loan off and then to start thinking of getting married – traditional arrange marriage. I was spending more than hundred bucks in smoking every month. I needed to quit – for my health and also to save money.

Not sure where I saw this but somehow I came to know that there was a Russian psychologist who was helping smokers to quit. I went to see him one evening in Boston downtown. The fee was $65. Not little money to me by any means. I was there to get some results. In the waiting room I met with several people, aspiring quitters, a few gloomily mentioned this was there second or third visit to the psychologist. This I found a little disheartening. If the doctor’s methods worked then why would so many return every few months.

Anyway, I had already paid and there was no way I was going back without seeing what the doctor had to offer. After an hour or so waiting I was called inside his chamber. He was a short man with little hair and a round smiling face. As I stood before him he walked in front of me and stroked me mildly with his pointer right at the center of my forehead. “You can go now.” He smilingly said.

“That’s it?” I was horrified. All this for my 65 dollars! No discussions, no checking this and that, no counseling!

“Yep. It’ll work.” He said.

I stood their foolishly for a few long moments before stepping out of his office to make room for a girl who was visiting him for the fourth time. I was at the brink of tears thinking how well my 65 dollars could be spent otherwise.

Naturally, the stroke of pointer wasn’t working any miracles. Next day I was dying for a smoke. The only thing that stopped me from picking up a cigarette and lighting it was my 65 dollars. I told myself I had already spent most of my monthly smoking budget so I had to stay out of it at least for that month. If the urge didn’t go away by then, I’ll be free to go ahead and lit a cigarette next month.

Days past by. I was tormented between lit or no lit, stayed away from my smoking friends, chewed truck load of chewing gums, drank gallons of gallons of coffee. Eventually the month passed. The urge was still there but I hanged on. I hated the sickening cough, something that was already getting slightly better as I hadn’t smoked for almost a month. I didn’t want it to return. Another month passed by.

And another.

I stuck to it. I have not smoked since. However, one admission – even after decades of quitting I still had dreamt of smoking; it is almost insane wondering how addictive nicotine can be. Fortunately, after about fifteen years my urge for smoking has completely gone.]

Anyway, during my discussion with my colleague a piece of very interesting information emerged. He believed that our body needs a small quantity of nicotine and the body itself actually generates it; when a person smokes s/he is actually overriding the body’s mechanism to create the necessary nicotine and causing all kind of issues resulting into diseases. I was truly horrified. I had never even remotely heard anything like this. Never read anything about it. I objected several times but eventually had to restrain myself wondering if there was any truth to his strong belief . In the past there have been situations where my strong belief turned out to be incorrect (let’s not talk about them).

Later I went to the internet and did some searches. Interestingly the questions have been asked by many. The answers were quite simple. No, it is not true. Here is what I found. An FYI to all:

Q. Does the human body naturally produce small amounts of nicotine?

No. However the body has nicotinic receptors in nerve cells- places where nicotine binds to cause its psychoactive effects. These receptors are probably also activated by substances created by the body which have a structure very similar to nicotine- it's not as though we'd evolve to all have a very special receptor created for the sole purpose of responding to a drug!

(My assumption is my colleague had misunderstood the concept of receptor that gets activated by substances created by the body which have a structure very similar to nicotine)

Q: Does the human body need nicotine?

Answer: Nicotine is found in tobacco plants as a poisonous alkaloid, most toxic in its pure state. In cigarettes, there is about 15 to 30 mgms of the allkaloid but the smoke contains less than 10 mgms and less than that is inhaled. While it is reported to be a relaxant, the human body has no use for nicotine.

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