Susceptibility of Youth to Nicotine Dependence
Many people have attributed nicotine addiction to cigarette smoking. Did you know that nicotine can also be found in vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes, red peppers and eggplant? Nicotine is a chemical that contains nitrogen which is produced synthetically by plants or manufactured by tobacco plant. All the mentioned vegetables and the tobacco plant belong to the same family of plants called night shade family. However, the concentration of nicotine in these plants varies with the tobacco plant topping the list with the highest concentration. Nicotine, apart from heroine and other drugs, is very addictive and some people have ended up being dependent on them in that, they cannot do without (Medicine Net, 2010). Studies have shown that, the youth are the ones who are more vulnerable to nicotine dependence than the old (Kandel & Chen, 2000). This essay seeks to explore on this issue and its implications on our fight against smoking.
Effects of Nicotine
The number of youth smokers has increased tremendously over the last 5 years despite the fact that the majority of the youth know the negative effects of nicotine on one’s health; many smokers have tried to drop the habit but in vain. Nicotine is known to cause increased heart rate and stroke volume. It also triggers muscles to absorb more oxygen. This leads to high alertness, euphoria and a sense of relaxation. The above effects may sound plausible but when an addicted person tries to stop nicotine intake, he suffers from withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, short attention span, restlessness, and a very strong craving for nicotine. Sometimes the person becomes irritable and at the end of it, he becomes dependent on nicotine to be normal again (Medicine Net, 2010).
How does one become dependent on nicotine?
Nicotine finds its way to human bodies through the skin, the mouths and nose linings and the tissues which form the lining in lungs which are moist .Cigarettes are the main channels through which nicotine gets into our bodies. Once inhaled, it reaches the brain before 15 seconds elapse. When chewed, it is absorbed in the mouth through mucus membrane (Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders, 2010). Nicotine is referred to as psycho active drug which means that it mostly affects the brain, in other words, it operates in the brain altering its chemistry and changing the mood of the person. It stimulates the release of a hormone called dopamine which is usually released by the body to respond to pleasurable feelings. This accounts for the good feeling the smokers experience when smoking. If a person continues smoking for long, dependency on nicotine develops fast and thus the moment the person stops smoking, he or she will always feel uncomfortable and the only way to be normal again is to inhale some more nicotine (Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders, 2010).
Statistics on nicotine dependency
Nicotine dependency rate varies in diverse socio-demographic groups. Females display a high tendency to nicotine dependence than males; whites are more susceptible that blacks and lastly, the rate is highest among the young than the old. Even though adults are the heaviest smokers, dependency rate decreases with high quantity intake and since the youth smoke less, they are more at risk of being dependent on nicotine (Kandel and Chen, 2000). This explains why there are very many young people who are hooked on smoking and this threatens the future generations.
Studies have showed that, people start smoking at the age of 12 and 20 and very few begin as adults. Adolescent smokers, out of rebellion, tend to smoke and also as a way of seeking acceptance from their peers. This staggering statistic has triggered studies on the issue and research has been done to explain this shocking trend (Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders, 2010).
Connie wood and others did a research on susceptibility to nicotine dependency, titled the development and assessment of nicotine dependence in youth 2 study. The objective was to identify factors that indicate a person is developing dependency from the first inhalation through progressive smoking. They came up with results which showed that the feeling of relaxation after smoking predicted dependency. The researchers employed interview as a method of collecting data and this study took 4 years just to study those who were hooked on smoking. Subjects also went through some psychological measures (Wood etal, 2010).
The findings were on loss of autonomy over nicotine and also on nicotine dependence. The former presented itself when the smokers could not quit. The subjects reflected this when they presented HONC symptoms (hooked on nicotine checklist). It emerged that, youths may defer in their vulnerability to dependence or autonomy loss because they smoke at different lengths of time. The most significant finding is that there are so many factors that may expose a youth’s brain to nicotine but they do not influence his or her dependence on it. The three main factors that lead to loss of autonomy and dependency are feeling of relaxation after the first puff from a cigarette, the depressed mood and advertisements (Wood et al, 2010).
All these marked the onset of dependency with 29% of the subjects experiencing the relaxation sensation at their first smoking experience and 91% of these could not quit while 67% became dependent on nicotine. How the youth feels at his first puff of cigarette will determine whether he or she will continue to smoke and the moment he experiences that relaxation feeling, which is a pleasant one, then that will motivate him to continue using it. Most smokers have given the excuse that, when they smoke they feel much relaxed and they don’t know that this is a motivating factor for them to continue smoking. Most of them do not know when they become dependent but after the first smoking, they will tend to have that craving or a desire to repeat the pleasurable act and thus without knowing it, they become dependent (Wood et al, 2010).
The researchers were also out to prove the theory claiming that individuals react differently to smoking due to physiologic differences. This theory is called sensitization-homeostasis theory. According to the theory, nicotine acts by suppressing the pathways in our neurals which are responsible for generating cravings (Wood, et al, 2010). This leads to cravings being triggered automatically when nicotine is not present in our bodies. This suppression is what is felt as relaxation feeling and thus with the first cigarette, this might be a door to dependence. It can be concluded that, the first smoking experience determines their dependence rate. The main concern now is the factors that lead the youth to experiment with smoking. From the research, it emerged that exposure to cigarette advertisements may lead to this dependence especially among the youth who have started smoking. These adverts motivate the youth psychologically to continue smoking until they are unable to quit resulting to dependence (Wood, et al, 2010).
What are the implications of this research?
One thing that is apparent is that, the only way to reduce nicotine intake is by preventing the youth from experimenting with them and one thing that leads them to do so is cigarette marketing. The images that these youths are exposed to, remain in their minds long after the advertisements. The main question that the world should grapple with is, how it can stop the youth from being exposed to these advertisements so that they can be stopped from experimenting with cigarettes because their first exposure matters a lot and it will determine whether they will become dependent or not (Wood et al, 2010).
It seems that the only way to prevent the youth from experimenting with cigarettes is to ban all the advertisements and this is what triggered World Health Organization’s recommendation to ban them. The most worrying thing is that despite of the banning of these advertisements, the rate of cigarette smoking among the youth continues to rise. This means that, the method has not been effective (Shadel et al, 2000).
Is the world loosing its fight against cigarette smoking or nicotine addiction? If this trend continues, it means the future generation will be grappling with serious consequences of nicotine intake. Diseases like lung cancer, brain tumors associated with cigarette smoking and other side effects will be the major ailments afflicting them. This means that, the world should come up with more effective ways on how to control nicotine intake.
In 2001, many organizations in US such as American Heart Association, Legacy Foundation, Medical Association and American Lung Association, submitted their petitions to FDA (Food and Drug Administration). They urged it to regulate some nicotine containing products which are being advertised as safe for consumption (Spivak, 2001). It seems that despite of being banned, they are still effective. The few ones which are not directly related to cigarettes but contain nicotine are still out their spreading the gospel which encourages nicotine intake but in a disguised manner.
In Conclusion, it has emerged that there could be many inborn or physiological characteristics which may increase susceptibility to dependency on nicotine when combined with some psychological motivations such as advertisements. Dealing with one cause may prove ineffective. All these factors should be combined in the fight against the use of nicotine. If the youth could be made aware of these maybe through an introduction of the topic in school syllabus in the future, where they are given detailed information on how their bodies react to nicotine intake and how they may not be in control anymore the moment it finds its way into their bodies, then the banning of advertisements could be more effective. If they knew that their first experience with smoking could determine their dependency rate, then they would not attempt to smoke in the first place despite of exposure to these adverts because some of them puff once just to see how it feels not knowing that, that one time experience could be their down fall.
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