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Key facts about tobacco

The basics - Key facts about tobacco, including its history, uses, and effects

Addiction is a condition in which a person habitually gives into a psychological or physical need for a substance such as alcohol, tobacco, or drugs.

 The substance becomes the focus of a person's life and begins to harm the individual or others physically, mentally, or socially.

Addictive behavior includes psychological dependence on activities like overeating or gambling as well as physical addiction to chemicals like heroin or cocaine.

Perhaps the thorniest discussion about addictive behavior is the ongoing argument about smoking cigarettes.

Is tobacco use merely a bad habit that can be controlled and broken with a little willpower? Or is it a more serious problem with complex physical and psychological effects that keep smokers smoking? Are they, in fact, tobacco addicts?

 Language purists complain that words like addicted and addiction are being stretched to cover so many situations that they're in danger of losing their original meanings. In a way, that has already happened. Believe it or not, there was a time when addiction was a good thing.

 The word came into English more than 500 years ago as a legal term.

Addiction occurred when people gave themselves over to a master to learn a trade as apprentices.

Old books describe people as being addicted to learning or doing good works. By the 1800s, however, addicted began to refer more to harmful behaviors than to positive ones.

Dictionaries used examples like "addicted to vice." Then, approximately 100 years ago, doctors began writing about people giving themselves over to a new master - drugs. By 1951, Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary defined an addict as "one who is addicted, or strongly disposed to taking drugs."

The 1960 Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary showed the beginnings of a new shift in meaning. An addict was defined as "one who is addicted to a habit, especially to the taking of some drug."

In 1991, the Random House Webster's College Dictionary defined an addict as "one who is addicted to a substance, activity, or habit." Do you see the change? People used to think that addiction required a physical substance. By the late 1900s, many recognized a psychological component to addiction as well.

When someone can't stop buying shoes, it is not because something in the leather makes them addicted. Rather, some deep need is being met by the act of shopping, and satisfying that need has threatened people's jobs and destroyed their marriages.

An addict can be ruthless in acquiring whatever satisfies his or her craving or urge. Addicts will lie, cheat, or steal. They will manipulate people to get what they want. They'll be miserable and blame everyone but themselves if they can't feed their addiction.

Far too much time goes into plotting how to get the all-important item, how to get it now, and even better, get more of it.

 You might think the previous paragraph is somewhat dramatic when applied to a product that any adult can walk into a convenience store and buy. On the other hand, perhaps you have seen a 15-yearold one or two days after being cut off from his or her nicotine supply.

 Or you may consider this quotation from a 1969 presentation made to the board of directors at Philip Morris, one of the large tobacco companies: "Long after adolescent preoccupation with self-image has subsided; the cigarette will even preempt food in times of scarcity on the smoker's priority list."

Why would the top executives of a tobacco company expect hungry smokers to choose cigarettes over food? The answer is nicotine addiction.

The nicotine in cigarettes is a powerful drug. Whether they realize it or not, smokers use nicotine to keep their stress levels down.

When they can’t get nicotine, smokers become irritable and upset – a definite physical reaction.

Cigarettes also have psychological value for smokers. Smoking offers a way of breaking the ice at parties or other social situations by offering someone a cigarette or asking for a light.

Unfortunately, cigarettes also have many negatives. Some of the really serious consequences of smoking take years to make themselves known.

You’ve probably heard the lectures and seen the pictures in health class.

The worst part about smoking is that you’re addicting yourself, giving yourself over to a master. You may be hooked before you even realize it.

Only when you are scrambling to the store in the middle of the night because your pack ran out or lighting up when you are sick with the flu do you face the harsh realization that you no longer have a choice.

You need that cigarette. And you need it now.

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