Legal Drugs in Our Society
Hopefully, you have found the historical account to date of which drugs have largely been considered illicit, those that have typically been licit and readily available, and those that have switched from one designation to the other, to be an interesting review. Such distinctions among different groups of people and across different periods of time often speak to the changing cultural, social, religious, and scientific beliefs and morays of the time. This week, you will be studying two very popular and legally sanctioned drugs, tobacco and caffeine, that have been readily consumed by people since the beginnings of structured societies.
From its use in religious ceremonies and purported medicinal herb thousands of years ago to the image of sophistication and modernism it has held in industrialized societies over the last few hundred years, tobacco has occupied a role of prominence among individuals and groups alike. Think about it: what other drug has been so popularized in society as to be physically accommodated with lighters and ashtrays in automobiles and airplanes? What about spittoons in the restaurants and bars of the late 1800s and early 1900s? How about the smoking cars in trains and smoking sections at airports and restaurants? All these examples serve to demonstrate just how indoctrinated tobacco use has been in modern culture.
How did tobacco, the plant, get to be such a big deal? Check out this 8-minute history and science video from DNews Plus:
How have patterns of tobacco use changed over the decades in the United States and the world? What are some of the reasons for these changes?
Tobacco is interesting and noteworthy in that it is one of the only drugs that has been commercially available, openly accessible, and integrated within the culture of many societies for hundreds and hundreds of years. Further, it has been monetized as a commodity with economic value for the purposes of trade and payment of debts. In some circles, over time and across cultures, tobacco was even used as its own form of currency. In fact, one could certainly argue that the colonization, formation, and military defense of the United States of America occurred largely in part through the economic power generated through tobacco cultivation, sale, and distribution to other European countries.
It is interesting to note the relationship between the amount of government regulation that exists with the tobacco industry and the resultant use by population. There is a clear relationship between the growing regulation in the United States that began in the early 1970s and the eventual decline of tobacco use among large segments of the U.S. population. This can be especially seen in new generational cohorts; that is, the adoption of chronic smoking habits by younger people. Many other European and South American countries do not employ such heavy restrictions on the advertisement, marketing, and accessibility of cigarettes and other tobacco products upon their population. As a result, the decreases in use and dependence that have been realized in the United States have not been generalized to other countries across the world. The zenith of tobacco use in the United States has come and gone. The preponderance of research has clearly demonstrated its pathological effect on the body and that information, plus rigorous regulation, has helped contribute to the decline in its use.
There are a variety of ways to consume tobacco products as a vehicle by which to introduce the drug nicotine into the bloodstream and the brain. Smoking (via cigars, pipes, and cigarettes), chewing, and snuffing are all legitimized drug-using behaviors whose differing favorability has waxed and waned over the years. Over the years, most individuals were shaped into eventually preferring the use of tobacco cigarettes, which could be mass-produced in very high volumes inexpensively.
The intense and intentional role of marketing has been very significant in shaping the appeal to certain demographic groups of the population. The aggressiveness of early mass marketing campaigns also extended themselves, ultimately, to the denial and cover up by corporate America with regards to the deleterious effects of tobacco use. It wasn’t until 1964 that the federal government began to formally investigate the health effects and cost of tobacco use and to institute policies that would eventually lead to the restriction of marketing and sales in the United States.
What are some of the adverse consequences of smoking?
The deleterious effects, both physically and psychologically, that result from chronic tobacco use have been well documented. The three-fold combination of carbon monoxide, tar, and nicotine can produce a wide variety of lifelong physical ailments, including a higher risk for cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and lung cancer than for nonsmokers. As is widely popularized, there are literally thousands of chemical found in cigarette smoke, including ones commonly used in pesticides. Additionally, other forms of cancer have also been implicated with chronic tobacco use. In fact, the vast majority of deaths each year that can be attributed to drug use and dependence are the result of tobacco use and nicotine dependence.
The primary psychoactive drug in tobacco, nicotine, has been determined by research trials to be a dependence-producing substance. As you recall from previous lectures, drug dependence is defined by continued use of a drug even in the face of obvious occupational, physical, familial, and social problems that one experiences in direct relation to its use. This also includes the psychological experience of craving and high drug-seeking behaviors. The rate at which nicotine is absorbed into the blood stream and penetrates the blood-brain barrier certainly speaks to its strong psychoactive properties. Withdrawal symptoms begin as early as six hours after the last dose. Within 24 hours, common complaints can include headache, irritability, problems concentrating, and sleep disturbance. Finally, in the late 1990s, the tobacco industry finally conceded publically that the products they were producing were not only physically harmful to individuals but also that the nicotine contained within then was a dependence-inducing substance.
What are some of the best strategies to employ when attempting to stop using tobacco products?
You know just how difficult it is to treat nicotine addiction in terms of a smoking cessation program. The research has demonstrated, much like successful treatment programs for other types of drugs, that have a high degree of dependence, that a multimodal approach is best. This type of additive treatment program incrementally increases the probability of success by systematically addressing addiction from a biological, social, operant conditioning, and environmental cue framework. Individuals are encouraged to think deeply about, and even write down, their personal reasons to stop smoking. This cognitive-behavioral approach helps an individual really contemplate the meaning and reasons behind their decision to stop smoking – beyond the simplistic reasons often given by others or conveyed through warning labels or public service announcements.