The tobacco leaf naturally contains nicotine which is an alkaloid found in the nightshade family of plants (Solanaceae). Many other plants like tomatoes, potatos, eggplants also contain nicotine.
Nicotine mimics a naturally occurring substance in our body ‘acetylcholine’ which works as a neurotransmitter. Nicotine is also known to release other transmitters such as dopamine and serotonin which contributes to its addictive qualities.
Cigarette companies add additional nicotine to the tobacco to enhance their product thus producing an addictive desire to smoke more. A nicotine craving is an empty feeling, almost like a hunger. When a smoker enjoys a cigarette fresh nicotine is delivered to the body which ends the craving and the smoker feels a feeling of satisfaction and confidence. They think that the cigarette is actually making them feel more confident or relaxed, but they are not, they are simply feeling less uncomfortable. Similar to wearing uncomfortable boots all day long, then taking them off. Did you enjoy taking the boots off, or was it just the relief at ending the discomfort?
That is why nicotine replacement therapies are rarely effective at helping people stop smoking. Of those who try nicotine gum only about 7%-10% succeed in quitting. Those who choose the nicotine patch do a little better with about a 15% success rate. The unfortunate truth is that in one day a nicotine patch delivers an amount of nicotine to the bloodstream equivalent to smoking almost SIX packs of cigarettes! Wearing a nicotine patch you are receiving more nicotine that you have ever had in your life and yet people will still want to smoke a cigarette. This shows that the desire to smoke is not only nicotine, but habitual in nature.
For most smokers the hard part are the habit rituals associated with smoking, such as holding the cigarette, smoking it, exhaling the cigarette smoke. These are all part of the smoking habit.
As an alternative to smoking tobacco we have seen electronic cigarettes come to age. Because you still see the “smoke”, inhale/exhale, and hold the device they really help with the habitual satisfaction. While they are not marketed or developed to help people quit smoking, they have proven to be a very effective tool for many people to walk away from tobacco cigarettes for good. Because you can control the amount of nicotine, you can actually lower your intake over time and at some point smoke a zero nicotine ecig while still satisfying your habit.
The best thing is to not smoke, ever. But if you have to….then at least explore your options to find the best and safest way to reduce your consumption.