Each year, approximately 7 million people worldwide die from the consequences of tobacco use. That is as much as the entire population of Bulgaria. Smoking has an eye-watering long list of negative health consequences, and while cigarette sales have decreased since their peak in the second half of the 20th century, one in three adults continues to smoke. Chances are that you, dear reader, are a smoker yourself.
How can we explain these exorbitant numbers? Are people unaware of the dangerous health threat tobacco poses? While denial may play a role, mere misinformation is unlikely to be the reason. Anti-smoking campaigns continue to increase, and with cigarette packs featuring printed warnings like “smoking kills”, it’s hard to ignore the fact that fags simply aren’t good for you.
The reason that millions of people choose to inhale toxic fumes every day—against their better knowledge—is the strong temptation of instant rewards such as the relaxing effects of nicotine or social acceptance from peers. The human drive for immediate gratification and the challenges this imposes on our self-control are powerful factors affecting our choices. While little tricks can help us overcome the emotional pull of tempting rewards, long-term success in abstaining from negative habits crucially relies on our level of future-orientation, i.e. the extent to which we consider future outcomes.