The State of Smoking

A Brief History

smokingIn America, our relationship with smoking cigarettes has evolved throughout the 20th and 21st centuries and continues to change today. From the beginning of the machine-produced cigarette up until the later years of the 1900s, people simply didn’t know how smoking was devastating their bodies.

It used to be common and even considered “cool” to smoke. The picture on the right shows famous baseball players advertising Chesterfield cigarettes. Doctors would recommend smoking to cure people’s congestion. The advertisement below shows cigarettes being marketed as a way to suppress appetite and lose weight.

Here’s a slide show showing more of these crazy smoking ads from the 20th century.

smoking 02People started to slowly see that smoking adversely effected them, through losing their breath, decaying teeth, and the like, but it wasn’t until 1957 that the US government officially established a link between smoking and lung cancer. This was a big turning point, and slowly but surely, Americans started to phase cigarettes out of the cultural mainstream.

Since then, science has showed more and more just how harmful smoking is, and how the addictive nature of nicotine affects the brain. Public schools now teach students these dangers, and smoking is banned in most public places. Now it’s pretty unthinkable to imagine that not all too long ago, people could smoke at work or in an airplane!


Where are we now

smoking 03We’ve come a long way but smoking and tobacco use are still huge causes of preventable deaths in the US. Each year, approximately 480,000 Americans die from tobacco-related illnesses, and more than 16 million Americans suffer from at least one disease caused by smoking.

Beyond the tragic human cost of smoking, there’s an economic issue as well. Smoking-related illness in the United States costs more than $300 billion each year, including nearly $170 billion for direct medical care for adults and more than $156 billion in lost productivity.

Thankfully, we are still making slow and steady progress in this regard. The number of smokers are down in both adults and high-school students. However, usage is still above 10% and it varies by state and population.

The chart below shows the percentage of Americans who are smokers dropping over time:

smoking 04What state do you live in? This might affect the likelihood that you or a loved one will pick up smoking or be able to quit. Check out this interactive chart showing the risk levels in different states.

Where do we go from here?

As a society, it is in our best interest to keep in pursuit of a smoke-free existence. This can’t be achieved through government regulations, warning labels, or public service announcements alone, however. Continuing to make progress in reducing our amount of smoking requires that we do what we can to help our loved ones understand the drastic consequences of long-term smoking and provide solutions that can help them quit.

There are many options out there for people who are looking to stop smoking. Nicotine addiction is a physical condition as well as a mental habit that has been created over time. Treating both the physical and mental addiction is key to breaking the cycle.

If you or someone you love is smoking and are ready to take up the challenge of quitting, it pays to be prepared for the road ahead. There will be times you want to smoke, and certain places or feelings that trigger the urge. Planning a quit date, telling your family and friends, and avoiding situations that trigger cravings can help a lot.

Click here for more tips on preparing to quit smoking

Once you or your loved one is prepared, they will have to choose a method. Different methods work for different people. Methods generally involve combinations of medication, nicotine replacement products to ween off of the addiction, counseling, and a great deal of mental fortitude.

Click here for an interactive guide on effective methods of quitting

What can we say to those who need help quitting?

Changing your lifestyle in certain ways will best be able to help quit and stay that way.

Quitting smoking requires a redefinition of your lifestyle. No longer will a cigarette follow a big meal, or accompany a coffee. No longer will your ride home from work be marked by a smoke. Breaking these mental rituals centered on smoking is key to breaking the cycle.

smoking 05Replacing these activities with new and enjoyable habits will help you create the new, smoke-free life that you need. Taking up physical activity will be a huge benefit. By using your body and feeling the oxygen pulse through your veins through vigorous exercise, you will realize the power of breathing that you have been suppressing for so long.

By drinking a glass of water after a meal instead of having a cigarette, you will again be able to appreciate the refreshing benefit of crisp, clear water. (Quitting smoking actually improves the function of your taste buds too!) You might choose to listen to a podcast you like on your way home from work, and use that to celebrate the end of your day rather than with a smoke. The examples are endless, but the ultimate point is this: You will need to change your lifestyle to quit smoking.

Click here for some tips on managing cravings

Breaking through mental rituals and cycles is what is required for any kind of major change, and quitting smoking is one of the most mentally challenging tasks one must face. Remember, that quitting is challenging, but you don’t have to do it alone. Through the support of your friends and family, your doctor, your community and those strangers around you who won’t be affected by your second hand smoke, you can achieve a better, more healthy lifestyle.

This is how we push forward, building on the progress of the past few decades, in pursuit of a healthy, smoke-free society.

Best wishes,

Dr. Johnson