Nicotine & Tobacco
What it is
Nicotine is a chemical made by several types of plants, including the tobacco plant. While not cancer-causing or excessively harmful on its own, nicotine is very addictive and exposes people to the extremely harmful effects of tobacco dependency.
How it’s used
Tobacco products are typically smoked in cigarettes, cigars, or pipes; smoked in loose form in hookahs (water pipe); chewed; sniffed as dry snuff; or held inside the cheek as wet snuff. In Canada, there’s been a steady decline in smoking rates over the past 50 years.
How it affects us
When inhaled, nicotine is absorbed into the bloodstream and delivered to the brain within 20 seconds—which makes it very addictive. Nicotine may cause you to temporarily feel good or energized. It also causes the release of natural chemicals in your brain that may make you feel more alert and calm. Over time, your body builds a tolerance to some of the effects of nicotine, so you have to continue to smoke or vape to make the effects last. When you go without nicotine for more than a few hours, you may experience withdrawal symptoms. Many people continue to smoke or vape to avoid feeling this way.
Anyone who uses tobacco or vapes is at risk of developing nicotine dependence. Cigarette smoke contains over 4,000 dangerous chemicals, many of which cause cancer. And the longer a person smokes (or is around smoke), the greater the chance of developing a smoking-related illness like heart attack, stroke, cancer, or respiratory disease. Children and youth are especially at risk for the harmful effects of nicotine, including addiction. Nicotine can affect memory and concentration and is known to alter teen brain development. Exposure to nicotine during the teenage years may cause reduced impulse control and cognitive and behavioural problems. There are health risks linked to other chemicals found in vaping products. People who try to stop smoking or vaping can experience intense feelings of withdrawal, like irritability and difficulties concentrating.
When to seek help
There’s no safe level of tobacco use, so if you’d like to make a change by deciding to quit smoking, there is help available. Attempts to quit work best when you’re highly motivated, and have the support of family, friends, a support group, or your doctor. Stop-smoking aids (the patch, gum, inhaler, lozenge and nasal spray) can lessen the cravings. Certain medications don’t contain nicotine but can help you quit—they’re available by prescription. After a few years, people who quit smoking can generally achieve the same level of risk of cancers and heart disease as people who have never smoked.
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