Users treat tobacco as a drug

Anti-smoking advocates have never faced the drug effects of cigarettes squarely.

Lately I have been observing cigarette smokers, and I have noticed a pattern.

A generation ago smokers dealt with packs. I knew friends were about to light up because they would pull packs from pockets or purses.

Some would drop the packs on the table. Others would pull one out and put the pack back in the pocket. It was a social gesture, a social behavior.

Now it's very different. I see that when people are preparing to smoke, they will play with a single cigarette. Some put it behind an ear, others cup it in a hand. They know they have to be outside for it. It's a solitary pursuit.

In other words today's cigarette users know they're doing drugs. Telling them that cigarettes contain addictive drugs is not going to dissuade them -- they know it. That's why they're doing it. That's certainly why teens are doing it.

Even recent moves toward getting rid of menthol may have little effect. Smokers know cigarettes taste nasty.

Unfortunately, anti-smoking advocates have never faced the drug effects of cigarettes squarely. Having endured the effects of second-hand smoke on cruises and in bars, I have a nodding acquaintance with them.

Cigarettes create a feeling of detachment. You feel both relaxed and wired. Initial side-effects like the loss of taste or smell would have been positive boons in the 19th century, when most food was rotten and most streets were covered in horse droppings.

When I was on second hand smoke I couldn't get to sleep. I didn't notice minor aches and could walk for many miles. I became a night owl. For those who work long days this is also a benefit.

Smoking seems to suppress appetite. Many smokers are thin, even those with healthy appetites. Those same appetites lead to ballooning weight once the smoking stops.

I mention all this for one reason, to inform a new public policy toward smoking.

People aren't smoking because it's cool anymore. They're not smoking because it's social. They know they're taking a drug, a drug with a specific set of effects they find attractive and, later, addicting.

It's time for anti-smoking policy to reflect these new facts. It's the only way we're going to push the smoking rate down further.

The FDA has authority to regulate tobacco, but most of its actions to date have been aimed at making cigarettes less attractive to kids based on social and taste cues. The drug effects of tobacco are not being challenged.

Isn't it long past time we addressed them and took them seriously?

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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