A cigarette burning

Life’s a drag

What makes smoking so attractive to so many?

Smoking cigarettes is the most widespread addiction worldwide because it delivers a powerful chemical, nicotine, very effectively

Take a puff and the nicotine level in the brain peaks around ten seconds later. The effect wears off quickly, so the smoker quickly has another go. For many people, it is not long before the habit is hard to break. This, added to the ritual of lighting up (often in company), the unpleasant effects of nicotine withdrawal, and – although there are now tight advertising controls in the UK – a cultural image that many find attractive, gives you a foolproof recipe for mass addiction.

Over the last decade there has been a marked increase in global attempts to reduce the prevalence of smoking, with mixed results. The percentage of people who smoke has fallen, suggesting that, overall, the policies and controls have had an effect. But as the world population has increased, the total number of smokers has risen. To make further progress, more controls may be needed.

More recently, e-cigarettes have become more popular. While there is not yet any substantial evidence about the long-term health effects of these, there is a general public view that they are less harmful than traditional cigarettes. Although free of tobacco, they often contain flavourings which may be just as bad – and make them more appealing to younger people. One study found that the average daily consumption of e-cigarette vapour would expose the user to twice the recommended amount of chemicals known to be involved in respiratory irritation.

E-cigarettes are not currently covered by the UK smoking ban and advertising regulations, but new public opinion studies are seeking to find out if people would support extending these laws to e-cigarettes. Duncan McNeil, a Member of the Scottish Parliament, suggests a ‘balance’: regulating the new products while acknowledging that they may be less harmful than cigarettes.

Lead image:

Hublera/Flickr CC BY NC


Questions for discussion

  • Do you think e-cigarettes should be subject to the same public use and advertising laws as regular cigarettes?

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Addiction’ in June 2010 and reviewed and updated in September 2015.

Psychology, Health, infection and disease
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development