There are many reasons why people struggle to quit smoking, but it almost always concerns a wrong understanding of how they perceive value.
Traditional psychologists who ravel on methods to quit smoking generally neglect to engage in exposing the reasons why people find value in smoking in the first place. Meanwhile, economists generally disdain the study of how value can be created by personal attributions.
For smokers and non-smokers alike, I prescribe a short manifesto on how value is really conceived. As even non-smokers may discover they’ve been indulging in their own versions of ‘smoking’.
A Model to Approach Value
During World War II, in a prisoner war camp, Radford observed how between prisoners most trading was established by the means of barter; but cigarettes, in particular, rose from the status of a regular commodity to that of a currency.
Camp authorities periodically granted a package of goods for all prisoners —smokers and non-smokers alike— which included a selected cigarette ration. Because cigarettes are homogeneous, reasonably durable, and of convenient size, they organically perform all the functions of a metallic currency as a collectable and portable unit of account. They became a transferable medium for exchange as non-smoker prisoners traded them according to their tastes and priorities.
Most fundamental to cigarettes’ transformation into currency was that they were collectively recognised as a means of storing and preserving value over time, as they were demanded by enough people for the effects of smoking tobacco. The pleasure nicotine produces, only ten seconds after entering the body, triggers a sensation that war prisoners treasured as a dormant delight. This effect was agreed on as a tangible representation of value, as the act of filling their stale breath with igniting smoke became a desired momentary sanctuary from the hardships of war.
“Additionally, when the situation of the war allowed for some stability, camp authorities decided to create a shop, large enough to have access to a larger quantity of cigarettes. Prisoners who were temporarily out of cigarettes were able to borrow from the shop. As credit emerged, cigarettes attained all the characteristics of a currency and the market was unified under the value of tobacco smoke.”
Cigarettes, as Perceived by Camp Smokers
In cigarette currencies, an apparent dichotomy of how smokers and non-smokers perceive the value of cigarettes exists. For smokers, a cigarette comes across as a form of commodity money, having value in itself which is directly perceived by its users. Tobacco has a use in itself; an intrinsic value that doesn’t exist as an object, but does in its properties.
For this reason, in Radford’s prisoner war camp case, “certain brands were more popular than others as smokes, but for currency purposes, a cigarette was a cigarette.” The clash between the value of cigarettes as a coin of trade and the value of cigarettes as a commodity shows that these were subject to the working of Gresham’s Law: “Bad money drives out good”.
This principle implies two types of money. Good money refers to a currency of higher quality in terms of its intrinsic value. Bad money, on the other hand, refers to a lower-quality currency. When both good and bad money are simultaneously in circulation and are legally exchangeable at the same fixed rate, people tend to hoard good money and use bad money for transactions. People get rid of the inferior currency as quickly as possible and as a result, bad money circulates more widely, while the good money is withdrawn and will gradually disappear from circulation.
When applied to cigarettes, it’s not hard to notice that people’s subjective preferences on brand and flavour have a fundamental role in the valuation of the cigarette’s intrinsic worth when putting good and bad money in the scope.
Smokers also display a time preference in perceiving cigarettes as commodity money, as they exhibit a preference for immediate consumption. For instance, a nicotine-deprived smoker may highly value a cigarette available any time in the next six hours but assign little value to a cigarette available in six months. Smokers prioritise the pleasure gained from smoking in the present over the potential future value of cigarettes as a medium of exchange. For someone craving nicotine, cigarettes are nothing more than a commodity.
Cigarettes, as Perceived by Camp Non-Smokers
Within this context, non-smokers don't perceive cigarettes merely as commodities for immediate consumption. Instead, they attribute value to cigarettes as a form of representative currency. For non-smokers, a cigarette’s worth doesn’t lie in its inherent worth, but rather in how it represents something valuable to someone else: the intrinsic value it holds for a smoker.
Value is fairly held in the belief that as a cigarette passes from hand to hand in every transaction, eventually, at the end of the chain, value manifests itself in consumption as someone accepts the cigarette as a commodity.
Non-smokers, who usually are inclined only to see cigarettes as a means of exchange, can exhibit some subjective insight on the intrinsic value of the cigarettes they prefer to accept in a transaction: they would rather have cigarette brands that are more popular among smokers or cigarettes that are in good condition against those that are folded or wrinkled, believing these would be easier to trade.
This means non-smokers can also value cigarettes through the eyes of smokers, and the perception under which cigarettes are valued, constitutes a position rather than an inherent trait.
There’s more to this; a smoker can only pleasurably smoke up to a specific limit of cigarettes. After reaching peak satisfaction, a smoker starts to get liquid, and from this point onwards, cigarettes are seen as nothing more than a means of trade.
This means that value consists of the agreement of potential with its object based on a person’s subjective need. Here, valuation is driven by the accountability of resources and needs. Smokers can take a similar position to that of non-smokers in a transaction.
Remarkably, a cigarette involved in a chain of ten transactions is in nine transactions perceived as a representative currency by both parties. While it is finally perceived as a commodity in only one instance by a single party: the smoker that eventually consumes it. This way, intrinsic value is deferred, pushed forward into the future every time someone exchanges a cigarette away.
Given that for most transactions smokers operate in the same way as non-smokers, it can be abstracted that cigarette currencies primarily operate as perceived representative tokens in the minds of both smokers and non-smokers.
Under this premise, a deeper examination reveals that while the value of cigarettes as a token of exchange is conscious, the intrinsic value, which remains unsatisfied until consumption, becomes unconscious to the individual. In other words, although cigarette currencies are initially tied to a specific commodity, their intrinsic value becomes detached from the physical act of smoking as they undergo a chain of exchanges as currency.
Both smokers and non-smokers consciously recognise cigarettes as a valuable medium of exchange, while unconsciously disregarding their intrinsic consumable value. As a result, people unknowingly reconcile two conflicting ideas: 1) neglecting the act of consumption that gives cigarettes their intrinsic worth, with that of 2) still acknowledging them as a valuable token for trade.
We have to accept that these two contradictions are somehow unconsciously reconciled. Otherwise, it would imply that in trade, people are willingly relinquishing their possession of something in exchange for a cigarette that 1) holds no intrinsic value, as they themselves will not consume it; and 2) holds no intrinsic value they can consciously attribute in every transaction, as it represents value to someone else.
When compared to banknote money this idea becomes clearer:
Banknotes used to hold value as a medium of exchange because they ultimately represented something valuable to someone: gold. Each banknote was backed by a reliable guarantee, as the government and private entities store a reserve of gold. Once coins and banknotes became widely circulated, people engaged in various activities like feasting, purchasing new clothes, and getting groceries. It created a bustling environment where individuals were occupied with fulfilling their needs and desires.
Every banknote was backed by its equivalent value in gold. But in the regular flow of economic activity, people’s perceptions tend to focus on immediate concerns rather than on grasping the actual representative value of each banknote. As banknotes circulate and change hands, their connection to the underlying gold becomes less apparent. While people consciously recognise the value of banknotes as a token of exchange, the representative value, which remains unsatisfied until consumption, becomes unconscious to the individual.
This way, people unconsciously reconcile 1) their neglect of the representation that gives banknotes their value —gold—, with that of 2) continuing to acknowledge it as a valuable token for trade. Again, in both cigarette and banknote currencies, we must accept that these assumptions are somehow unconsciously reconciled. If otherwise, trade wouldn’t be possible.
Cigarette Currencies, as Perceived by You and Me
Decades ago, a Charlie Chaplin impersonations contest was held in California. There were 40 competitors, and Chaplin himself participated in it. But he didn't end up winning; in fact, he came in 27th place. Chaplin impersonated his well-known self, yet he resembled people’s abstraction of Chaplin less than the random men who scored ahead of him in the contest. Cigarettes and all other forms of currency are subject to a similar phenomenon: people’s abstraction of value in money differs from its actual value.
From this concept, we can adopt an approach that reconciles the two conflicting assumptions that people hold regarding money:
From how smokers perceive cigarettes, we’ve learned that value in currencies consists of the agreement of potential with its object. The smoker that consumes the cigarette, perceives it as a commodity currency in virtue of the fact that he enjoys the value of the use of the cigarette, that is, its intrinsic value. The inherent value of a cigarette stems from the pleasure and need for nicotine consumption. This is its potential.
But non-smokers —or likewise, smokers that don’t end up consuming it— detach the cigarette from its intrinsic value. They don’t naturally perceive the intrinsic potential of the cigarette, and this void in value makes them worthless. The void left, however, is instantly bridged as non-smokers get their hands on a cigarette. They unconsciously ask themselves: “What can I turn this cigarette into? What commodity can I potentially transform this pack of cigarettes into?” Cigarettes are perceived as valuable regarding their potential claim on a personally desired commodity.
Cigarettes stop being representative of their final intrinsic value on consumption: they transcend the act of smoking and become associated with a symbolic representation whose value ultimately relies on personal attributions.
This is the mystification of money. Through each individual it passes through, the cigarette goes beyond its physical form and becomes a manifestation of desires and needs, as it embodies the exchange and possession of other possible desired commodities. For some, cigarettes symbolise a month's rent, while for others, they represent a new phone or a romantic dinner. Money assumes different representations yet retains its identity as the same physical token.
Value manifests through the agreement between a symbolic representation of perceived potential and the cigarette, predicated upon a subject’s desires. As long as other individuals attribute their own symbolic meanings to cigarettes, banknotes, or any other form of currency, they retain their efficacy as tokens of exchange.
Value, as Perceived in Currencies
The process of abstraction regarding intrinsic value extends beyond the chain of individual exchanges. It expands over time alongside the growth of wealth and technology. As societies and economies have advanced, they have sought improved methods to facilitate trade and transactions.
Tobacco and other forms of commodity money were replaced by metallic currency: coins made of gold, silver, and copper. These represented a direct exchange for the value given by actual consumable commodities. This was the first transformation made where people began to blur the boundaries between their consumable desires and the means to attain them.
Later on, paper money emerged, which, while not intrinsically embodying the value of metals like coins, was a more abstract representation of them. Banknotes were prescribed as claimants for the metallic value coins were representing. This transformation was the last instance of tangible currencies which, at least, represented tangible value.
With the passage of time, it was thought that banknotes issued didn’t need to represent a complete conversion into gold and metals. People found banknotes very convenient and they rarely thought of presenting them to the issuing authority. Therefore, the full backing of money was not required. Only an average proportion of forty per cent was considered enough to cover the banknotes in their conversion into gold: cutting the initial intrinsic value of banknotes by more than half. This was fiat money, backed by government decree. Following the tendency, through time the conversion was cut into a minimum amount of gold. This was the transformation in which tangible currencies began to represent intangible value, yet still worked as tangible translations of people’s needs and pleasures.
In our modern economies, money has taken on an intangible form by becoming digital. Technological advancements, physical plastic cards, applications like Apple Pay, and potential future innovations like facial recognition, have and will continue to gradually distance people from the tangible value or backing associated with the money they possess. Digital money is now the current state of affairs, where intangible digital representations of otherwise intangible currencies represent, ultimately, intangible value. Yet, value is still perceived in these immaterial tokens as mediums of trade through the mental artefacts that have been exposed previously.
A Lesson for Smokers
The process by which people detach cigarette currencies —and all currencies— off their intrinsic worth offers a bridge to understanding the real value people perceive in the otherwise worthless act of cigarette smoking, and as such, also provides insight into understanding the factors behind the tendency to get locked into a cigarette dependency.
All smokers lay the foundations of their smoking practice by getting acquainted with the buzz: the head rush experienced from nicotine smoking, appreciated as a subtle feeling of lightheadedness. This experience is recognised as the expression of a pleasure that, framed lightly, is embracing, vitalizing, and even enlightening at times.
However, over time, smokers gradually stop experiencing the buzz. The initial intrinsic value brought by cigarette consumption becomes absent, yet smoking continues to be nurtured by smokers as an act of value.
It is from this point onwards that smokers find themselves in that characteristic disposition of the subject that has detached the object from its intrinsic value, and, just like with cigarette currencies, perceive value in an unconscious symbolic representation, rather than in the consumption of nicotine for its own sake.
By the time smokers no longer feel the buzz, they have smoked enough cigarettes for many of them to have been present on occasions of great happiness and celebration, many of them have also offered instant relief during despairing situations; as a consequence, they become affiliated with the smoker’s mental recollections of feeling good. The act of smoking has become associated with the times it was an escape from uncomfortable situations, or a source of comfort when returning home after work. It goes as far as affiliating itself with people whom the smoker shares these moments with, and becomes a part of the way the smoker relates to them.
Phenomenologically, smokers blur the boundaries between these moments of bliss and the act of smoking itself. Due to the significant presence of cigarettes in these positive experiences, the emotions associated with those moments become connected to the act of smoking.
The perceived value of cigarettes now relies on affective motives, where the symbolic representation of past recollections serves as a substitute for the buzz. This happens as an internal need compels smokers to unconsciously adopt this association.
Of course, smokers don’t deliberately smoke for the purpose of remembering good moments nor do they, by instinct, run the movie of those cherished moments in the background of their mind every time they grab a smoke. What has happened is that as the physical sensation of the buzz detaches from smoking, the unconscious, to fill the void left behind, merges the idea of the buzz with the emotions felt in those cherished moments. Smokers unconsciously project their emotional states onto cigarettes, seeking a psychological translation of value in the act of smoking in the absence of a prominent authentic buzz.
The buzz, even if faintly noted sometimes when paired with drinking or with a morning cigarette, has stopped being the object of perceived value for the long-time smoker. The value they perceive in cigarettes is now grounded in emotional motives, as smoking has come to be the commemorative reproduction of a perceived psychological state.
The nature of cigarette cravings and withdrawals brings evidence to this concept. To a heavy smoker, withdrawal is almost never, although it almost always appears to be, a matter of physical, but rather psychological longing.
The truth is that psychological withdrawals always precede physical withdrawals. When cravings arise, the smoker seeks to satisfy the psychological desire even before experiencing physical symptoms of withdrawal. People who are not attempting to quit smoking rarely experience headaches and fatigue, which usually peak on the fourth or fifth day of withdrawal. Multiple studies have been made on the use of placebo cigarettes to relieve subjective nicotine cravings. Cigarettes with no nicotine have been proven to relieve subjective nicotine cravings in participants, to a lesser extent than actual nicotine cigarettes of course, but still significant in how they prove the relevance of the perceived psychological state in dependency. In cigarette dependency, nicotine dependency is only peripheral: it operates separately from cigarette cravings despite being connected to them.
How to Quit Smoking
Just as is the case with cigarette currencies in modern economies, cigarettes have become representations of intangible value. The difference between cigarettes and cigarette currencies lies in the fact that cigarette currencies translate into desired economic material capital, while cigarettes serve as a self-complacent medium of exchange to acquire desired psychological capital.
As the cigarette currency has become the central artefact of economic wealth, so has the cigarette become the central artefact of psychological wealth. But, just as cigarette currency can take any form to serve this purpose, so can the cigarette also be transmuted by changing the object with which a smoker wants to associate the desired psychological state.
Phase one: Smokers can find a substitute to keep their mouths and hands busy in scenarios where they would normally smoke a cigarette. At the moment of psychological craving, instead of smoking a cigarette, they can drink a milkshake by sucking on a drinking straw, chew cinnamon sticks and toothpicks, blow bubbles, play music and whistle, eat candies and mints; if at a party, they can take another shot straight from the bottle or make out with someone, anyone. Fellatio and breast-sucking can also be complementary substitutes in the wake of Freud’s theories. Whatever poison is picked, smokers have to make sure they choose an alternative that 1) is fixated as somewhat of an oral substitute and 2) brings in its consumption something of an intrinsic ‘buzz’, and soon enough all the recollection of the emotional states brought by cigarettes will be translated into this other object.
Phase two: As smokers engage with this substitute, they will come to realise that they will eventually also detach the intrinsic value from it: once the milkshakes and candies become a learned behaviour it will no longer serve the purpose of a translation into a psychological state but rather a psychological reaction. Smokers will have to diversify the objects through which they obtain their desired state by learning new behaviours and coping skills.
Phase three: In the final stage, each of the diversified objects will have lost its intrinsic value. It is at this moment where smokers found themselves in the capacity of moving value categorically; in contrast to how they only could do so previously by symbolic representation. Smokers can now access their desired psychological state by directly engaging in any other activity.
These same concepts are endorsed by professional medical advice.
The evolution of a smoker is parallel to the evolution of monetary doctrines, as value evolves from intrinsic to perceived in the representation of a desired material or psychological state. The process by which the smoker wants to approach quitting smoking has to be understood as an allegory of the evolution of money in reverse; quitting smoking must be regarded as a return to barter.
In phase one, perceived value is de-digitised from its intangible representability and its ‘fiat’ status is removed when it is brought down into actions performed consciously to quench craving. In phase two, representation ends and value is commodified through the process of diversification. Finally, in phase three, it is devolved into a direct system of exchange, where any deliberate action translates promptly into a desired state of mind. Makes for a beautiful catharsis that at this point the value previously concentrated in cigarette smoking can be distributed, at will, to any other action.
If these principles and methods are adopted authentically, the ex-smoker will find he/she has transcended into something of a wizard of states, transmutation and value.