Cigarettes have been associated with young rebellious adulthood and glamour since their early marketing campaigns.
The Marlboro man - tall, good looking, on a horse wearing a cowboy hat and staring off into the distance - he said 'conqueror'.
The Embassy ad - couple in a hot sports car drive to a mountain top, they listen to jazz, she sits gorgeous in a red dress taking in the music, the view and her man - this image says 'elegant living.'
Even though the advertising of cigarettes has been forbidden in many parts of the world, thanks to clever product placement in movies, we still think of smoking as a sign of freedom and the beginning of personal independence. Whether it is Sharon Stone inhaling languorously in Basic Instinct, or James Bond reaching for a post-coital cigarette; the message is clear, smoking is for the beautiful, the young and the dangerously sexy.
Barack Obama, Jennifer Aniston, Naomi Campbell, Brittany Spears, Rihanna, Chris brown, Lil Wayne, Adele, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus... just a few smoking celebrities. The first three have been trying to quit since they hit 40 while the rest are being idolised by your kids.
Smoking is a really easy habit to pick up and unfortunately the earlier you start, the deeper the habit is embedded in your personal identity, so the harder it is to quit. Michelle Obama apparently told Barack that he could only run for president if he quit smoking. She said "he could not be a smoking president". We know he wanted the US presidency with all of his being but he only managed to shed the term 'smoker-in-chief' in 2011 after trying to quit for most of his adult life.
So what is in cigarettes that makes them so addictive? Why do millions of people have such a hard time quitting? They can't just be lacking on self-control, or mere suckers for great marketing, can they?
The addictive chemical in cigarettes is nicotine, which is a stimulant. However, psychologist and addiction specialist Pascal Mwita says, "the stimulating effects of nicotine are followed by depression and fatigue, leading the user to seek more nicotine, an explanation for chain-smoking."
Just this week, The National Campaign Against Drug Abuse (Nacada) announced that drug and alcohol abuse should be declared a national disaster.
They stated that the youngest drug and alcohol user they have found in the country is only 10 years old. They pointed out that parents play a role by using these substances and having them easily available in the home. If you are thinking that cigarettes do not fall under the 'drug and alcohol' label, you are right, but Pascal Mwita believes there is a relationship.
He says, "The characteristics of smoking cigarettes indicate that nicotine might be a gateway to addiction to other drugs of abuse. Cigarette use typically precedes the use of illegal substances and people who abuse heroin and cocaine are more likely to be tobacco smokers than the rest of the population. Research has revealed that children who have never smoked are certain not to use heroin or cocaine, while a significant proportion of children who smoke heavily have used these drugs, and many have become drug-dependent."
Mwita also points out that the use of water pipes which are popular in the Middle East has become part of the Nairobi party scene. Flavoured and sweetened tobacco is heated over charcoal and then cooled as it passes through a bowl of water.
He says, "Many enthusiasts believe that it is safer than smoking cigarettes, but in fact the 'hookah' may expose users to more toxic materials than cigarettes because it is unfiltered. Smokers are also inhaling fumes from the charcoal."
So how do you keep your children nicotine free? Well as the child of a smoker who raised three smokers, I am testament to the fact that kids do not believe the adage, 'do as I say, not as I do'.
To my siblings and I, my father always looked like the cooler parent. He seemed to be the one enjoying his life the most so we copied him and smoked. If you want to raise non-smokers, it is important that your home be smoke-free. If you or your partner is a smoker, quit.
Mark Twain famously said, "Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I've done it thousands of times." If you think that quitting is all about willpower, you are wrong. The companies that make cigarettes spend millions of dollars trying to get you to pick up a cigarette; and ensuring that once you do, they never let you go.
Not only are you sold on an image of yourself as a sexy, beautiful, glamorous, rebellious smoker; but your body also develops a physical dependence on nicotine. Any smoker will tell you that the desire for a cigarette is as demanding and as urgent as a need to go to the bathroom. Not only can your brain focus on nothing else, but you start to shake, then you get anxious, and all manners leave the building. You will scream at anyone who is in the way of you and your nicotine fix.
But it can be done, people have quit smoking and so can you. Some people are able to give up smoking cold-turkey. They simply stop. For most this is not a viable option. Keep in mind that there is a link between cigarette smoking and depression and some people have found that taking an anti-depressant while they quit is very helpful.
Christine is a 34-year-old mother of one and her doctor prescribed Zoloft. "My husband asked me to quit before our wedding and I had tried for years. I mentioned it to my doctor and she prescribed Zoloft. I was on it for two months, I quit and I have been smoke-free for six years," she says.
Vivienne is in her late 30s and she says, "This will sound silly but I learnt to just sit there with the craving and really feel it. I would name my feelings quietly to myself, like 'my hands are shaking' or 'I am cranky' then I would just wait for the wave to pass. I found out later that this is a meditation technique for dealing with difficult emotions.
I also carried a cigarette with me everywhere to avoid that panic that sets in when you don't have a cigarette. It also made me feel powerful, like I could smoke whenever I felt like it but I was choosing not to." Vivienne now considers herself a non-smoker, "I had to change how I think of myself. 'I am not a smoker.' It is subtle but that declaration matters to me."
Most successful quitters report that increased exercise made it easier to give up cigarettes. Cardiovascular activity is demanding of your lungs so it forces you to acknowledge the damage that cigarettes have done to your body. Working out also gets you into a healthier lifestyle and cigarettes just do not fit the 'healthy' mold.
A few years ago, Oprah Winfrey had her favourite Doctor, Dr Oz, create the 'YOU: Staying Young, Quit Smoking Plan' and you can find it at http://static.oprah.com/download/pdfs/health/oz/oz_young_smoking.pdf
It usually takes a few tries but quitting is one of the best things you can do for yourself and everyone who loves you. Not only will you stop poisoning your lungs, but every organ of your body will feel swept clean. Your skin, hair, teeth, eyes and of course mouth will be first tattle tellers of your new smoke-free ways. Good Luck.
If Your Child is Smoking:
Sometimes even the best foundation isn't enough to stop kids from experimenting with tobacco. It may be tempting to get angry, but it's more productive to focus on communicating with your child. Pascal Mwita is not only a psychologist and addictions specialist, he is also the father of three teenagers. Here is his advice on what to do if you find out your child is smoking:
• Resist lecturing or turning your advice into a sermon.
• Uncover what appeals to your child about smoking and talk about it honestly.
• Many times, kids aren't able to appreciate how their current behaviour affects their future health. So talk about the immediate downsides to smoking: less money to spend on other pursuits, shortness of breath, bad breath, yellow teeth, and smelly clothes.
• Stick to the smoking rules you've set up, and don't let a child smoke at home just to keep the peace.
• If you hear, "I can quit any time I want," ask your child to show you by quitting for a week.
• Try not to nag. Ultimately, quitting is the smoker's decision.
• Help your son or daughter develop a quitting plan and offer information and resources, and reinforce the decision to quit with praise.
• Stress the natural rewards that come with quitting: freedom from addiction, improved fitness, better athletic performance, and improved appearance.
• Encourage a meeting with your doctor, who can be supportive and may have treatment plans.