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From Myths to Medicine: How Our Understanding of Smoking Has Changed Throughout History

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smoking myths

In the UK, 16.5% of men and 13% of women still smoke.[1] This may sound like a lot – and it is – but this is still a significant drop on the number of smokers documented 10 years ago. In fact, both cigarette smoking prevalence and the average number of cigarettes smoked by smokers per day have been decreasing since the 1970s.[2]

This is largely due to the increase in the scientific information available regarding tobacco. But our understanding of its risks hasn’t always been so strong.

Smoking has been the subject of much misinformation

People have smoked tobacco and other substances since ancient times. All over the Americas and across Indigenous peoples, tobacco was used in rituals and as a pastime as early as 5000 BC.[3]

By the 1700s, smoking had become a widespread habit throughout the western world. In the early- to mid-20th century, the popularity of smoking grew even more as misinformation about cigarettes became widespread, thanks in large to the boom in advertising. In the mid- and late-20th century however, particularly after World War II, people began to understand that there were serious health repercussions involved in smoking tobacco.[4]

Some of the wildest myths about smoking that people believed in the past include that it could relieve headaches and that it could ward off diseases. Some past health experts even believed tobacco could be used as an anaesthetic!

Today, there is no hiding from the damage smoking can cause

Today, most of us know that smoking is bad for us. Tobacco is the largest preventable cause of death in the world.[5] Around three in 20, or 15%, of cancer cases in the UK are caused by tobacco.[6] This makes smoking the largest cause of cancer in the UK.

Smoking causes at least 15 different types of cancer: lung, larynx, oesophagus, oral cavity, nasopharynx, bladder, pharynx, kidney, pancreas, stomach, liver, cervix, bowel, ovarian cancers and leukaemia.[7] It can also be a causal factor in early onset menopause, impotence, poor olfactory function and lower life expectancy.[8]

These kind of statistics and findings have clarified our understanding of the dangers of smoking. As such, our attitudes towards the habit are changing. The NHS reports that there has been a general decline in positive attitudes towards smoking, particularly among young people.[9] Since the 2007 smoking ban, attitudes and behaviours have changed even more dramatically.

Quitting for good requires perseverance and support

There are several lifestyle changes you can make to improve your chances of succeeding in your attempt to quit. These include:

  • Being realistic but positive in your expectations
  • Doing regular exercise
  • Making non-smoking friends
  • Finding ways to keep your hands busy
  • Identifying what triggers your cravings
  • Making changes to your diet and drink habits[10]

Some people benefit from quitting as part of a group, or seeking support via apps or family members. Others use safe and effective medication to improve their chances of success.

Are you trying to give up smoking for good this Stoptober? You’ll find safe and effective smoking cessation medication like Champix right here at Express Pharmacy. Get in touch with our experts today by calling 0208 123 07 03 or by using our discreet Live Chat system.

[1] Office of National Statistics. Adult smoking habits in the UK. 2018

[2] Office of National Statistics. Opinions and Lifestyle Survey. 2013

[3] Gately, I. Tobacco: A Cultural History of How an Exotic Plant Seduced Civilization. 2007

[4] Cancer Council. A brief history of smoking. 2010

[5] World Lung Foundation. The Tobacco Atlas. 2018

[6] Brown, KF., et al. The fraction of cancer attributable to known risk factors in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Island, and the UK overall in 2015. British Journal of Cancer. 2016

[7] Cancer Research UK. Tobacco Statistics. 2018

[8] Action on Smoking and Health. Facts at a glance — key smoking statistics. 2018

[9] NHS Digital. Statistics on Smoking, England. 2019

[10] NHS UK. 10 self-help tips to stop smoking. 2018