We all know smoking is bad for us. The comprehensive campaigns against smoking have made it clear that smoking causes disease, that it's addictive, and that there are literally no health benefits to lighting up. Every cigarette someone goes through is just putting poison into their mouth, throat, lungs, and blood stream. Despite that, though, people still smoke. Maybe not as many as smoked in the past, and certainly not as universally as a few decades ago, but it does happen. And when it happens, everyone has the same question.
So why do we still smoke?
Why, with this colossal mountain of evidence about how bad smoking is for us, do people still do it? And not just do it, but pay for the privilege of it?
Smoking is About More Than Health
One of the universal things you notice when you start asking people why they still smoke, even though they're aware of just how bad it is for them, is that smoking does offer intangible benefits. When Vice interviewed smokers who started young, many of them pointed out that smoking was a way to fit in with a certain peer group. It made them feel more mature, and marked them apart from other groups. And, in at least one case, a young man took up smoking for no reason other than because smokers got breaks at work, and non-smokers didn't. A pair of 15-minute breaks was all it took for him to develop the habit.
While social smoking is a powerful thing, it's only part of the puzzle. Because, since we sometimes forget, cigarettes are a drug. As Smoke Free points out, smoking releases a rush of adrenaline that can wake a smoker up, and leave them feeling energized and focused for a brief period of time. Additionally, smoking is often a soothing act, helping to relieve feelings of stress and tension (even though that relief is having serious and negative side effects on the rest of a smoker's health).
Why Doesn't Everyone Quit?
If you look at the numbers, more people are quitting smoking every day (in America, at least). Not only that, but fewer people are picking up the habit. However, there are still plenty of people who smoke, and who aren't keen on quitting without being made to quit.
Why is that? Well, it's pretty simple; the health effects of smoking show up later. Smokers are depressed, anxious, and needing a pick-me-up today.
That is one of the enduring appeals of smoking, and one of the greatest problems for getting people to quit. Because everyone who smokes knows it's bad for them. Between commercials, ads, and online campaigns, the dangers are well-known. But it's hard to put down a pleasure today, even knowing that it's going to cause you serious problems tomorrow. It's the same reason so many people will eat unhealthy foods, refuse to exercise, or do any of a dozen other things that we all know are bad for us. Because it isn't until something happens that shocks us out of our complacency (or makes it impossible to keep doing what we were doing), that we end up changing our behavior.
What does that look like? Well, one smoker that Vice interviewed said she ended up quitting not because she meant to, but because she had bronchitis for six months and couldn't smoke. Another smoker said she couldn't picture herself smoking past age 30, but she'd see what happened when she got there. Because when a habit is ingrained in someone's behavior, and that habit does offer them some positive results, it's hard to change it. Even if you know it will, eventually, be the death of you.