Smokers in The Tipping Point

Smokers have a typical personality. Extrovert, into risk, impulsive, gets angry easily, likes parties, has many friends to talk to, has sex more often (40% more often in college)… They are indifferent to others’ opinions and they are defiant. Just the kind of person an adolescent would be attracted to. And just the kind of person likely to smoke. I’ve never heard this before.

The tobacco industry, for instance, has been pilloried for years for denying that nicotine is addictive. That position, of course, is ridiculous. But the opposite notion often put forth by anti-smoking advocates– that nicotine is a deadly taskmaster that enslaves all who come in contact with it– is equally ridiculous. Of all the teenages who experiment with cigarettes, only about a third ever go on to smoke regularly. Nicotine may be highly addictive, but it is only addictive to some people, some of the time.

This is exactly the point I have been trying to make with my children about alcohol. (We have alcoholism on both sides of the family.) Originally my parents and now my husband, none of whom drink much, accuse me of “brainwashing” the boys by telling them that alcohol is bad for them. Now, I have told them that. I’ve also told them that Paul recommended wine to Timothy for his stomach. But I have said, basically, that alcohol depresses your brain, making you not know what is going on. And, in that state, you forget important things. On top of that, in addition to that, my children are genetically predisposed to alcoholism. I’ve also told them that it is dangerous for them to drink because they don’t know which drink, the first, the seven thousandth, will put them over the edge into alcoholism. I don’t consider that brainwashing. I consider that education. And my children are smarter than I was. They wouldn’t get in the car when my brother had been drinking. But I did. And they called me on it. Thank God my “brainwashing” has worked so far! Of course, they’re young. They may decide to be defiant risk-takers and drink. I hope not, though.

Another point Gladwell makes about smoking is that it is strongly correlated with depression. Four members of my birth family are on Prozac, none of my nuclear family are. And none of this group of people are smokers. But apparently Prozac makes your brain make more serotonin, one of the chemicals depressed people are low on. And smoking makes the brain make more dopamine and norepinepherine. So smoking is a non-medicinal way to treat depression.

Also, if the smoker stops smoking, they are more likely to have clinical problems. So, if you are a smoker and want to quit, one of the things you need to be prepared for is depression. For smokers only Zyban, from Glaxo Wellcom, will work. Prozac won’t. Neither will Zoloft. They don’t act like nicotine does, and therefore they don’t help the smoker. But Zyban hits both kinds of chemicals, making it easier for the smoker to quit.

To read this for yourself, Gladwell starts on page 227 with the full in-depth discussion of smoking. The Tipping Point