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Posted on: November 22, 2019 at 5:11 pm

Smoking is a difficult addiction to break, especially when it begins during the teen years. The younger a smoker takes up the habit, the more addicted they tend to be. 

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What Makes Smoking So Addictive?

Nicotine, the most addictive substance in tobacco, is also present in vaping devices. In small amounts, nicotine can help to temporarily improve mood, help relax, and improve focus, all of which makes the user crave more. Nicotine releases dopamine into the brain and even provides a mini adrenaline rush. 

Nicotine reaches the brain within seconds after the first puff but the effects don’t last more than a few minutes, which may leave the smoker feeling on edge. This brings the person to light up again to keep the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms at bay. Like other drug substances, the body adapts to nicotine so, in order to reach the point of feeling good, a user has to raise the amount of tobacco. Of course, you’ve probably heard this all before right? 

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Although smoking is glamorized among teenagers and in media, many users are aware of its negative effects and want to quit. However, the withdrawal symptoms are intense and include headaches, nervousness, irritability, depression, anxiety, trouble sleeping, and trouble concentrating. Quitting is also difficult because not only does the body physically dependent on nicotine, the smoker is emotionally dependent on it as well. It also may be a big part of social activities the user participates in. [1]

Because of this, some users may fall into denial of the physical effects of their habit. Anecdotal cases where someone they know ‘smoked a pack a day and lived to 100’ are always put on a pedestal to reassure them that their addiction is ‘not that bad.’ After all, it’s easy to ignore the damage that occurs internally, we simply don’t see it. 

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However, when these surgeons uncovered a blackened lung from a deceased chain smoker, the true effects of smoking came to light. In fact, the viral video has amassed over 25 million views and has been called “the best anti-smoking ad ever.

The Lungs of a Chain Smoker

The smoker in question is an unnamed man from China who smoked continuously for 30 years. He opted to donate his organs after his untimely death from several lung diseases at age 52. After he was declared brain dead, the medics began to operate, but they quickly discovered that his lungs were far too diseased to be of any use.

“Many smokers have lungs which look like this,” Dr Chen Jingyu, from Wuxi People’s Hospital in Jiangsu said. “Our team decided to reject these lungs for transplant.”

Although earlier oxygenation index tests deemed the lungs okay to use, once the surgeons got a good look while harvesting them, it was clear they were damaged beyond repair. For comparison, healthy lungs are pink in color.

Unfortunately, over 300 million people in China smoke cigarettes, which accounts for one-third of smokers all around the world.

“We Chinese love smoking,” said Dr. Jingyu. “It would be impractical to say we wouldn’t accept the lungs of all smokers, but there are strict standards. [We accept] lungs from people under 60 years of age who have only recently died, minor infections in the lungs and relatively clean X-rays are also acceptable. If the above conditions are met, we would consider transplanting the lungs.” [2]

Smoking is the cause for one in six deaths in China; someone dies from complications as a result of this habit about every 30 seconds.

With these blackened lungs, in particular, the medics also found calcium deposits that had been forming over the years. This may be a sign of infection or amyloidosis, which happens when protein amyloids build up in organs, it’s a dangerous condition. These lungs were also unable to expand and contract fully, which caused breathlessness in the deceased. There was also damage caused to the alveoli (air sacs in the lungs). All of these issues were attributed to the man’s decade of smoking.

Look at these lungs,” said Dr. Jingyu. “Do you still have the courage to smoke?” [2]

Tips for Quitting Smoking

Set the date. Have a game plan and decide whether you will go cold turkey or decrease your nicotine intake slowly. Think of healthy ways to curb your withdrawal symptoms and protect you from picking up a cigarette in a time of weakness. This can include throwing out all packs, telling friends and family about your quitting day, signing up for a support group, buying gum, toothpicks, carrot sticks, and similar oral substitutes, and avoiding activities and people who trigger your urge to smoke. Also, keep your day busy to distract you.

Research NRTs and alternative therapies such as skin patches, gum, lozenges, etc. Some people have found things like acupuncture, hypnosis, yoga, meditation, herbs, and supplements had helped them quit but there is no strong evidence of their usefulness. Talk over your options with your doctor.

Find support. There’s a lot of emotional and physical upheaval when a person quits smoking, and counseling and support services, as well as self-help materials, can help overcome this hurdle. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) offers support services to anyone trying to quit: [3]

  • smoking helpline: 1-877-44U-QUIT (1-877-448-7848)
  • local and state quitlines: 1- 800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669)
  • LiveHelp online chat
  • Smokefree website
  • SmokefreeTXT text messaging service
  1. American Cancer Society. Why People Start Smoking and Why It’s Hard to Stop. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/tobacco-and-cancer/why-people-start-using-tobacco.html November 13, 2015 
  2. Alexandra Thompson. Shocking video shows the black lungs of a chain smoker. Yahoo News. https://news.yahoo.com/shocking-video-shows-the-black-lungs-of-a-chain-smoker-115619469.html November 19, 2019
  3. Hannah Nichols. Five ways to quit smoking. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319460.php#1 September 18, 2017
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