Everyone knows that smoking can kill you. And not just by causing cancer or heart attacks, but also by significantly increasing the odds that you’ll get many other diseases such as multiple sclerosis or Buerger disease (which can lead to amputation of legs), the diseases that can start in 20s and 30s, rather than 60s and 70s.
But this is not the topic of this essay. I want to talk about smoking and hedonism. Many people mention pleasure or some other hedonistic quality as their main reason why they smoke. Well, I have bad news. Smoking and hedonism don’t mix. I have an infographic that shows just how stupid it is to smoke, from purely hedonistic point of view.
On the following picture you can see the effect of smoking on mood as a function of time.
When someone is just starting smoking, smoking indeed improves the mood and gives pleasure. So the first cigarette (the first one after the smoker has learned how to properly smoke) is the most pleasurable. What exactly happens? Let’s say that the normal, neutral mood can be expressed with the number zero. It’s neither positive, nor negative, it’s just a normal, neutral state of mind. This is the level of mood that non-smokers enjoy constantly (if you consider just smoking and exclude other factors that might influence the mood). So non-smokers are constantly around zero. When someone starts smoking their first cigarette lifts their mood and gives them the buzz. But as soon as the cigarette is finished the mood plummets not just to the old, normal level, and but slightly bellow it. So if you started at level zero, while smoking you got to +5, but after the effects are over, you’re now at -2. You remember how good the fist cigarette felt, so you light up again. You get a nice buzz, but not as strong as the first one… So now you get from -2 to +4. But when you run out of nicotine, your mood drops even lower, to -3. You are starting to feel the need for a smoke. Of course you smoke again, but now you get just to +3… You’re still happy about your smoking habit because it routinely gets you over the baseline level of zero. But as the time progresses each time you smoke the top of the buzz gets lower and lower, and the bottom you reach when you’re without a smoke, get deeper and deeper. Eventually you need to smoke just to get normal, just to reach the zero. And after a while, you can’t even reach even zero, even when you smoke. So your mood is constantly lower than that of non-smokers. It varies from -6 (while not smoking) to -1 (while smoking). Your average mood is around -3, while the average mood of non-smokers is zero. You still might rationalize your smoking by saying it gives you pleasure. What it actually does is taking you from -6 (the state of withdrawal) to -1 (which is still lower than baseline), but you perceive it as “pleasure”, because it’s still an increase from -6.
Green areas on the infografic are net gains in wellbeing, and red areas are net loss in wellbeing. It’s easy to conclude that only during very early stages of smoking addiction, the gains might predominate. This stage lasts a few months, on average. That’s why people get hooked. But as soon as you’re truly hooked to smoking, you are constantly residing deep in the red territory, and even when you have your buzz, you’re still bellow zero.
So, what’s the solution? Quitting smoking, of course! The next graphic shows what happens to your mood when you quit:
So, while you’re smoking your average mood is -3. It goes from -6 while not smoking to -1 while smoking. When you quit, it goes further down to -7. But, luckily, your mood starts improving gradually. Just 5-7 days after quitting your mood surpasses your average levels you had while being a smoker. And after that, even during the withdrawal itself your mood will be better than your old, smoking average. You might think that withdrawal is very difficult, but this is just because you associate your old smoking mood with levels during the buzz, which is -1, and not with your true average of -3. Eventually, after around two weeks, which is the average time needed for nicotine withdrawal, your mood will surpass even the tops of the buzz you had while smoking, and will reach normal level of zero, for the first time after a long while! You’ll feel great! You’ll feel fantastic. Since you have been accustomed to the average of -3 during your smoking days, new normal of zero will feel wonderful! If you don’t feel great after 2-3 weeks since quitting don’t worry. It just means your level of addiction was stronger than average and you need a little more time. But eventually you’ll feel much better, physically, emotionally in all aspects of life, and all this combined with the satisfaction that comes from kicking such an ugly habit!
From purely hedonistic point of view smoking sucks. Measured on some abstract scale, the average level of mood of smokers is -3, while nonsmokers enjoy the level of zero. So smoking causes significant net loss of pleasure, mood and well-being. Luckily quitting smoking solves the problem in just two weeks and restores normal levels of mood. I recommend the cold-turkey method.
My main motivation for writing this article is because I have someone in my family who was a smoker and who got a cancer from it. Thank God it was discovered early and she survived. She quit smoking only after the diagnosis, but if she did it before, maybe she wouldn’t get cancer in the first place. But such stories don’t seem to be a strong motivator for people to quit smoking especially if they are young. So it seems that we need to explain that if you are a hedonist and want pleasure, smoking is one of the worst things you can do.