Why Smokers Smoke (The Need for Instant Gratification)

buttsIf we could figure out why smokers smoke then perhaps we can help them stop. Tobacco use and smoking especially are known to be serious health risks, perhaps the single worse thing a person can do to themselves, right up there with drug and alcohol abuse and driving intoxicated. 

This article published in Plos One, “Smokers’ Decision Making: More than Mere Risk Taking”, by Ert et al, used the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT) to determine smokers tolerance for risk and ability to delay gratification and demonstrate self control.  Smoking accounts for about 1/5 of the deaths in the USA and about 1/5 of the adult population smokes, resulting in almost 1/2 a million deaths annually.

This study seems to show that smokers are just as aware of the dangers as non-smokers, they just cannot resist the short term pleasure despite the knowledge of probable long-term disaster.  It is a self control issue, not a lack of knowledge issue.  They are not ignorant, and many could quit, at least from the physical addiction stand-point.  Smokers do tend to be risk takers as shown by the IGT choices made in this study, but the authors believe that it is not the risky behavior but rather their inability to delay gratification, that makes it so difficult to stop smoking.

As a parent, might it be a worthy task to build in training in delayed gratification?   I can think of a couple parenting principles that might help.  Whether or not you choose to give your child an allowance, help them divide their money into at least 3 or 4 categories; short term saving (for something they want), long term saving (for a major goal), charity or tithing, and spending money. The other delay that can be done on a daily basis, is to severely restrict sweets and highly refined carbohydrates (these are not part of a healthy diet anyway), limiting these only for special occasions. If children have homework, chores, educational games, or reading that needs to be done then rewards of other activities should be delayed until such necessary activities are done. 

The authors suggest that making smoking less convenient may be a strategy that helps reduce this behavior.

The lack of self-control that results in the persistence of risk taking behavior is the central finding of this study.  Who likes to be thought of as having poor self-control?  Perhaps educational campaigns showing signs of smokers saying “No self-control”  might challenge smokers to dig deep and find the self-control that certainly resides within each of us. Self-control is relative, and certainly each person can win the fight to regain their self-control and have a victory over smoking.

 Read the study at Plos One here…

Learn more about teh biology and behavior of smoking here…



Dr. Paul


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