Why People Smoke

Understanding Why People Smoke

This 1969 internal tobacco industry document from the Philip Morris archives provides unusual insight into the reasons why people smoke. This is a classic work that answers many questions asked frequently today -- over 30 years later. We highlight exerpts from the document and provide direct links to the actual pages. You can also visit the Philip Morris site and view the document on their site (see Source information below). Select pages from a second document [1, 2, 3], also from the Philip Morris archive, provides insight as to why girls begin smoking.

QUOTE: S. Tomkins and Daniel Horn have proposed that there are four types of smokers. We don't agree. We believe smokers to be much more alike than different insofar as their motivation to smoke is concerned. This is the thesis of this paper and the conviction underlying our current research program.

We believe that the confusion resides in the fact that the smoker, although aware of his response to smoke, is unable to report accurately the nature of his response. He is aware of the pleasurable inner state but beyond that he cannot characterize the state. He has trouble translating the somatic sensations into descriptive words. We believe that all smokers smoke for this vague but pleasant subjective experience; some call it a lift, some call it relaxation... a rose by any other name is still a rose [1].

QUOTE: We have, then, as our first premise, that the primary motivation for smoking is to obtain the pharmacological effect of nicotine.

In the past we at R & D have said that we're not in the cigarette business, we're in the smoke business. It might be more pointed to observe that the cigarette is the vehicle of smoke, the smoke is the vehicle of nicotine, and nicotine is the agent of a pleasurable body response [2].

QUOTE: We are not suggesting that the effect of nicotine is responsible for the initiation of the habit. To the contrary. The first cigarette is a noxious experience to the noviate. To account for the fact that the beginning smoker will tolerate the unpleasantness we must invoke a psychosocial motive.

Smoking a cigarette for the beginner is a symbolic act. The smoker is telling the world, "This is the kind of person I am." Surely there are many variants on the theme, "I am no longer my mother's child," "I am tough," "I am an advernturess," "I'm not a square." Whatever the individual intent, the act of smoking remains a symbolic declaration of personal identity [3, 4].

QUOTE: Without attempting at this point to establish anything about the relevance of the physiological response to the sought for "pleasure" in smoking, we list below those body changes which have been shown to occur upon inhaling smoke. In it generally accepted that nicotine is in all instances the responsible agent [5].

QUOTE: At this point we go back to consider the reported differences between smokers and non-smokers. There is one thing that stands out as a recurring observation: Smokers, by and large, are people who are more psychologically stressed than non-smokers. There tends to be more turbulence within the person, and there tends to be more turbulence impinging upon the person [6].

QUOTE: We suggested before digressing onto the topic of stress that smoking is more prevalent among people under stress. We can pursue this idea further by making these three observations:

1. Cigarette smoking is more often a habit among more responsive, more arousable, more anxious people than among the less responsive or more tranquil people.

2. More cigarette smoking is to be found among people who life careers expose them to pressures and crises.

3. A smoker smokes more during the more stressful moments of his day or during stressful periods of his life [8].

QUOTE: The question of why one smokes can now be expressed in these terms:

What is the relationship between psychological arousal and the immediate psychopharmacological effect of nicotine?
It seems clear to us that we should expect nicotine to alter the arousal state in a manner consistent with the needs of the smoker at the time of arousal. In fact it is our belief that the ultimate explanation for the prevalence and the refractory nature of the cigarette habit will be found to reside in the beneficial effect of inhaled smoke upon the psychological arousal state [9].

QUOTE: Seven of the ten observed body responses to inhaled smoke are in the direction to be expected if the effect sought was stimulation, i.e., making for greater arousal. They are all seven consistent with the lay smoker's explanation that he smokes for a lift, or to be stimulated [10].

QUOTE: In light of all the evidence and particularly in view of the forcefulness of the three points mentioned above (see pages 10 and 11), we suspect that it is relief from the body response to stress which the smoker is seeking from his cigarette [11].

QUOTE: These considerations have caused us to focus upon one of the principle symptoms of a hyper-aroused state, namely, muscle tension. When roused to a state of vigilance, skeletal muscles are tensed in preparation for action. Most of us have experienced most, if not all, of the following effects of exaggerated muscle tension:

1. A fine tremor in the extremities
2. Exaggerated reflex action
3. Jerky, spastic movement or general clumsiness
4. Facial tics
5. Tightening of the throat
6. Unsteadiness of the voice
7. A feeling of unsteadiness
8. Irrelevant muscle activity
In addition to the direct impact of these effects upon behavioral efficiency, there is the insidious and very real effect of the person's awareness of the disruptive influence of excessive muscle tension upon his overt behavior. This is a familiar force to the clinician dealing with psychoneurosis, who, obseving it in more extreme form, refers to it as the vicious neurotic circle. The neurotic's anxiety frightens him, creating further anxiety

Within this context it can be seen that there is powerful inducement to the overly aroused, key-up individual to seek relief from the adverse effects of arousal upon body function [11 and 12].

QUOTE: It is the working hypothesis of our current research program that nicotine pharmacologically intervenes to reduce muscle tension, thus providing relief sought by the smoker [13].

1. Philip Morris -- 1003287836/7848 [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13]

2. Philip Morris -- 2026265507/5518 [1] [2] [3]
Mentions: Excerpts from Philip Morris newsletter