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Why do people smoke?

Wanting to smoke is not just an unhealthy habit. You want to smoke because your body now relies on nicotine. When the amount of nicotine in your body runs low, it triggers a craving -- a strong, almost uncontrollable urge -- for another cigarette. You may feel jittery, short-tempered or anxious when you haven't smoked. Your body wants nicotine.

This answer is based on source information from the National Cancer Institute.
Raja M. Flores, MD
Thoracic Surgery (Cardiothoracic Vascular)
Most people start smoking when their adolescents, says Raja Flores, MD, thoracic surgeon at The Mount Sinai Medical Center. In this video, he explains why youth plays a big role in the decision to smoke.
Ximena Jimenez
Nutrition & Dietetics
People may light up a cigarette for different reasons. One could be to cope with stress, difficult situations, or boredom. Another common reason people would smoke is to control, nicotine may increase metabolic rate and decrease appetite. For teenagers, it may be peer pressure or curiosity. If you are smoking to manage your weight, there are plenty of healthy alternatives. Don't forget you can visit a Registered Dietitian or visit www.eatright.org. 
Nicotine addiction is of course a primary reason for why people smoke, but it is not the only one. People often “fill” a number of needs through smoking. Here is a list of reasons people commonly give for smoking – and activities you might pursue instead. Talking back to that voice in your head that says “I smoke because…” can help you quit smoking and begin reaping immediate health benefits.
  • It is fun (Play catch with your kid instead.)
  • It helps me relax. (Instead take a hot bath.)
  • I like socializing with other smokers. (Join a smoking cessation group.)
  • It is a reward. (Give yourself a present.)
  • It gives me something to do with my hands. (Carry a worry stone.)
  • It relieves my boredom. (Try a crossword puzzle.)
  • It helps me focus/think. (Talk to a doctor or counselor about other ways to address your attention problems.)
  • It helps me forget my troubles. (Distract yourself with a good novel.)
  • I am talking on the phone. (Make phone calls only in places where you are not allowed to smoke and have pen and paper handy for doodling.)
  • I am driving. (Sing along to your favorite songs on the radio.)
  • I am hungry but can’t/don’t want to eat. (Drink herbal tea or hold a spicy, cinnamon flavored toothpick between your lips.)
  • I do not want to gain weight. (Talk with your doctor about how you can step up your exercise program to burn more calories.)
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
If you're like most smokers, you started back when you were a teenager. Why? Admit it, you wanted to look cool, seem more adult, impress your friends and annoy your parents. Soon cigarettes became more than that - a way to kill time, to relax, to calm yourself down, to have something to do with your hands, to keep your appetite down. You might have a lot of reasons to smoke, but the real reason you keep doing it is you're addicted to nicotine. 
Daniel Seidman, PhD
Psychology
It usually starts out as experimental, social and recreational smoking but over time it sneaks up on the smoker and they "graduate" into different patterns or types of smoking addiction. Although every smoker is of course a unique individual, smokers predictably fall into six different patterns or types. The first pattern is the small minority of those who can take it or leave it, the true recreational or social smokers (who all the other smokers envy). Then there are those compulsive smokers who show different patterns of "out-of-control" smoking.  There are the smokers who are phobic of quitting, (the "scared to quit" smokers); the smokers who automatically light up under stress, (the "emotion-triggered" smokers); those who smoke instead of snacking, (the "worried about weight" smokers); those who smoke when they drink alcohol, (the "alcoholic" smokers); and the newest and fastest growing group of addicted smokers, those who smoke occasionally and look forward more to each cigarette, (the "situational" smokers).

The obstacles to becoming smoke-free vary for each kind of smoker.  But realizing they have lost control of their smoking behavior (and are engaged in fruitless attempts to stay in charge of it!) helps many smokers take their smoking addiction more seriously.  Wanting to get back in charge of their life and their health often becomes an important motivator for becoming permanently smoke-free.  

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.