We humans love to create landmarks, even in something as intangible as time! We have just passed “hug a newsman day” and are fast approaching “cow appreciation day”, making this day-marking not a great way to kick-start any article; but, as WHO, an organisation that takes human life a bit too seriously has ear-marked only seven such days, they must be paid their due.
WHO has identified health, blood donation, TB, malaria, hepatitis, AIDS and tobacco as issues deserving attention of the entire world and dedicated a day each to spread awareness about them. Apart from first two, remaining five are killers responsible for more than half of the premature deaths that occur across the globe.
Most interestingly, of the killers from the list, tobacco is unique as it is consumed deliberately by an astronomical number of people who are often well aware of the damages tobacco causes.
While we celebrate “world no tobacco day” today, it is also a grim reality that there are more tobacco users in the world than Chinese. Tobacco is the greatest self-induced health hazard known to humanity.
So, what is there in tobacco that more than a billion people are ready to die for?
Tobacco leaves contain nicotine, a toxin that plants have evolved to deter insects from chewing their leaves. It is a natural poison that works on the neurological system of insects. This makes a bug luckier than a human being, as it gets paralyzed and dies quickly; while a human is first ensnared into addiction and killed slowly and painfully.
If you are a smoker, not only have you improved the probability of an early (and possibly painful) departure from this planet, you also have a great opportunity to experience chemistry at work and discover how a small molecule can hold more power over your brain than all your resolve put together!
Story of nicotine is one of the many tales that show us how we, the mighty conscious brains, are nothing more than cauldrons of chemical reactions that we have little control over.
Nicotine is a parasympathomimetic alkaloid, i.e. a chemical that works on a part of autonomic nervous system (ANS) that deals with automatic actions of brain, but has also found a way to tap into the dopamine circuit of brain, making it what it is, a molecule that can drive you against your will.
Dopamine to brain is like a biscuit to a dog being trained. You do the “right” thing and brain treats you with dopamine-induced “happiness”. This is a wonderful feedback-driven system where reward helps you learn and get habituated to do what is good for you.
As long as this system runs on real feedback (like falling in love with a girl/boy), it is a great tool for providing motivation and drive for you to go for it. But, when reality is replaced by a crooked molecule (like nicotine), it is one of the most “self”-destructive event.
You could be a brilliant person with enormous amount of conscious self-awareness, but a small molecule over-powers you by getting under the system and controlling you by taking over the dopamine reward circuit. That is why a tobacco user, with full awareness of the damage it is causing to him/her “self” has no easy way to stop.
If you are using tobacco, you have traded your living to a chemical that has more direct control over your brain than “you”. This makes nicotine addiction so powerful that it can be kicked only and only by a huge effort that less than 7% users manage. It is possible, but only if you are really proud of your “self” and want to regain it from a molecule.
It is about time you notice that, once enslaved by substance that can hack your reward circuit, you are not just losing health, you are also destroying your natural “self”. Smoking not only kills, it takes away your brain from “you”.
So, are you smoking today?