Tobacco: a deadly habit that's hard to kick
LONDON - Nicotine reaches the brain as quickly as 10 seconds after inhalation, triggering feelings of pleasure, increasing heart rate and raising blood pressure.
But alongside the nicotine, smokers breathe in a deadly cocktail of chemicals including arsenic, formaldehyde and polonium.
"Cigarette smoke contains at least 69 different cancer-causing chemicals and thousands of other poisons which can increase the risk of several different types of cancer," said Ed Yong of Cancer Research.
"Nicotine itself doesn't cause cancer, it just keeps the smokers hooked," he added.
Tobacco is so addictive that doctors writing in the Lancet medical journal this year said it should be classified as an illegal Class B drug, on a par with amphetamines and barbiturates.
The government says 70 percent of smokers want to give up but are held back by the power nicotine has over them.
Only one in five who try quitting manage to abstain for a year, while just three percent succeed in breaking the habit by willpower alone, according to statistics compiled by health charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH).
One in six smokers say they light up within five minutes of waking up, with half having their first cigarette inside the first 30 minutes of the day.
The government says 106,000 people die a year in Britain from smoking-related illnesses.
From July 1 smoking is banned in enclosed public spaces across all of the United Kingdom when England introduces its own prohibition to match those already in place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
But while this may help many adults give up, there are some groups who will need much greater assistance, says ASH.
Around a quarter of all adults smoke but among the most disadvantaged, such as single parents on benefit, the rates are as high as 70 percent.
"It's a response to stress," said ASH Director Deborah Arnott. "If your life is very stressful then smoking seems to help in some way."
She said such disadvantaged groups should be prescribed nicotine patches for longer periods than the usual maximum of 12 weeks to help them quit.
"It's the nicotine they are addicted to, but it's the smoke that's killing them," she said.
Gordon Brown cut the value added tax on nicotine replacement products to 5 percent in his last budget.
The tax break will last for a year but ASH says the price reduction should be made permanent to help the most addicted and disadvantaged.
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