Tobacco is a tall, leafy annual plant, originally grown in South and Central America, but now cultivated throughout the world, including southern Ontario. There are many species of tobacco; Nicotiana tabacum (or common tobacco) is used to produce cigarettes.
Nicotine, a powerful central nervous system stimulant found naturally in the tobacco leaf, is classified as a drug. Nicotine is one of the main ingredients in tobacco. In higher doses, nicotine is extremely poisonous. It is commonly used as an insecticide.
Tobacco leaves can be burned and inhaled (in the form of cigarettes, cigars, pipes, smoke, etc.) or absorbed through the mouth (in the form of spit tobacco, chew, or snuff). The membranes in the nose, mouth and lungs act as nicotine delivery systems - transmitting nicotine into the blood and to the brain.
Smokers usually feel dizzy and sick when they first inhale the nicotine in tobacco, but gradually build up tolerance to its effects. Other symptoms new smokers experience includes coughing, a dry, irritated throat as well as nausea, weakness, abdominal cramps, headache, coughing or gagging. These symptoms subside as the user develops a tolerance to nicotine.
Nicotine is highly addictive. The addictive effect of nicotine is the main reason why tobacco is widely used. Many smokers continue to smoke in order to avoid the pain of withdrawal symptoms. Smokers also adjust their behavior (inhaling more deeply, for example) to keep a certain level of nicotine in the body.
Smokers who usually smoke at least 15 cigarettes per day and/or smoke their first cigarette of the day within 30 minutes of waking are likely to experience nicotine withdrawal symptoms. They will likely find quitting uncomfortable.
Stopping can produce unpleasant withdrawal symptoms including depression, insomnia, irritability, difficulty concentrating, restlessness, anxiety, decreased heart rate, increased appetite, weight gain, and craving for nicotine.
Symptoms peak from 24 to 48 hours after stopping and can last from three days up to four weeks, although the craving for a cigarette can last for months.
Most smokers make an average of three or four quit attempts before becoming long-term non-smokers. Relapse is the rule rather than the exception and must be viewed as part of the process of quitting
Why is tobacco so addictive?
Nicotine addiction is very complex and highly individual. Many smokers continue to use tobacco even though they wish they could stop. Most people who smoke want to quit and have tried to quit. Nicotine is so addictive that many people continue to smoke even when their lives are in immediate danger.
Nicotine is considered addictive because it alters brain functioning and because most people smoke compulsively. Very few people can smoke occasionally.
Nicotine is a ‘reinforcing’ drug – smokers want it regardless of its damaging effects. It is considered a reinforcer because it causes many smokers to continue to smoke in order to avoid the pain of withdrawal symptoms.
Addiction to tobacco (nicotine) is not immediate. It may take weeks or months to develop. People who begin smoking when they are in their teens tend to be more dependent than those who start smoking after age 20.
Unlike cocaine, heroin or alcohol abuse, the more dangerous effects of tobacco use are not obvious in the beginning. As well, the pleasurable effects of tobacco may outweigh the abstract possibility of health consequences in the minds of many smokers.
Smoking gives pleasure: from the simple tactile and oral pleasure of handling and drawing on a cigarette to the comfort of a quick fix in times of anxiety, anger and other stress.
Many people don’t find their first experience with tobacco pleasant. Initially, social pressure may cause addiction to develop. Once addicted, there are fewer external pressures to quit than there are with other addictions. Smokers are not in immediate danger of losing their jobs or families due to their addiction. More dangerous health effects are not obvious in the beginning.
When you are young and strong, it’s so easy to think that cancer and heart disease only happen to other people. Much older people. You’re invincible, right? WRONG!
Here’s a reality check:
- Among young people, the short-term health consequences of smoking include respiratory effects – coughing and increased frequency and severity of illnesses like asthma, chest colds and bronchitis – as well as addiction to nicotine.
- The earlier people start smoking, the harder it is to quit when they are older. People who start smoking in their teenage years run the risk of becoming life-long smokers.
- Eighty-five percent of teenagers who smoke two or more cigarettes completely, and overcome the initial discomfort of smoking, will become regular smokers.
- Most young people who smoke regularly continue to smoke throughout adulthood.
- Smoking reduces the rate of lung growth and it can hamper the level of maximum lung function. So it should be no surprise that smoking hurts young people’s physical fitness in terms of both performance and endurance – even among young people trained in competitive running.
- The resting heart rates of young adult smokers are two to three beats per minute faster than non-smokers.
- Smoking at an early age increases the risk of lung cancer.
Spit tobacco is a type of tobacco product that is placed inside the mouth (referred to as a “wad”). This gives the user a continuous high from the nicotine.
Spit tobacco is sold in three forms:
- CHEW: a leafy form of tobacco sold in pouches. Users keep the chew between the cheek and gums for several hours
at a time.
- PLUG: chew tobacco that has been pressed into a brick.
- SNUFF: a powdered, moist form of tobacco sold in tins.
Users put the snuff between the lower lip or cheek and the gum. As well, some users will sniff it. Using snuff is also
Many people think using spit tobacco is safer than smoking. However, just because there is no smoke does not mean that it is safe.
A person who uses eight to 10 dips or chews a day receives the same amount of nicotine as a heavy smoker who smokes 30 to 40 cigarettes a day.
Spit tobacco is made from a mixture of tobacco, nicotine, sweeteners, abrasives, salts and chemicals. It contains over 3,000 chemicals including about 28 known carcinogens.
Some of the harmful chemicals in spit tobacco are:
- Polonium 210 (nuclear waste)
- Tobacco-specific N-nitrosamines or TSNAs (cancer-causing agents only found in tobacco)
- Formaldehyde (embalming fluid)
- Cadmium (used in car batteries)
Like smoking tobacco, spit tobacco affects the cardiovascular system and may be associated with heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure. Long-term effects include leukoplakia, tooth abrasion, gum recession, gum and tooth disease, loss of bone in the jaw, yellowing of teeth and chronic bad breath.
Other health consequences of using spit tobacco include cancer of the mouth (including the lip, tongue, cheek and floor and roof of the mouth) and throat.
Return from Nicotine, a powerful central nervous system stimulant to Home