There are over 7000 chemicals in commercial tobacco smoke. Some of these chemicals exist naturally, while others are created through combustion (burning the tobacco, e.g. smoking cigarettes). Cigarette companies also add chemicals to their products to mask the harsh flavour of smoke and make it easier to inhale smoothly. Cigarettes with additives are more palatable and easier to smoke, which can also make them more easily addictive. Many of these chemicals are toxic, such as tar and carbon monoxide, and at least 70 are cancer-causing.
Tobacco also contains nicotine, an additive chemical that changes the way your brain works. When you smoke a cigarette, nicotine travels to your brain within 7 seconds and causes the release of various chemicals that may affect your mood. Nicotine is a stimulant and can temporarily improve concentration and alertness, as well as induce a temporary feeling of relaxation.
Since nicotine changes how your brain works, it can actually affect brain development in youth and young adults, harming the parts of the brain responsible for memory and concentration. Over time, your brain gets used to receiving nicotine from cigarettes and starts to crave it, eventually making you dependent, meaning you need more and more nicotine to feel ‘good’. As soon as you stop smoking, and your nicotine levels drop, you go into withdrawal, and can experience various unpleasant symptoms such as irritability, restlessness, and difficulty concentrating. The only thing that will relieve these symptoms are either more nicotine, or time (quitting). This is what makes it so hard to quit.
You might need a few tries to quit for good, but you can learn something about yourself from every quit attempt, and we are always here to help!
Health Risks of Tobacco
Tobacco use harms nearly every part of the body.
Short-term health risks
- Coughing, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing
- More prone to colds, flus, and allergies
- Dulled sense of smell and taste
- Weaker immune system, harder to fight off infections
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Fatigue, difficulty maintaining muscle mass
- Psoriasis, acne, and scarring
- Dry, itchy eyes
Longer-term health risks
- Cancers, including lung, throat, bladder, kidneys, stomach, bowel, and oral cancer
- 9 out of 10 cases of lung cancer are from tobacco smoke
- Lung diseases, like asthma, emphysema, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Inflammation, hardening of arteries, and increased risk of heart disease
- Four times higher risk of stroke
- Hearing and vision loss
- Gastrointestinal illnesses like Crohn's disease
- Increased risk of death
One in two cigarette smokers will die from a tobacco-related disease.
Smoking and other tobacco use also affects the health of others. There are over 4000 chemicals in secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke exposure can lead to:
- Ear infections, breathing problems, and weakened immune systems
- Developmental and respiratory issues like asthma among children, as well as learning disorders
- Sudden infant death syndrome
- Heart disease and lung cancer
Quitting smoking and/or other tobacco use lowers the risks to you and your loved ones.
Thirdhand smoke is the residue left on fabrics and surfaces from tobacco smoke. It is composed of chemicals that stick to surfaces, which build up, can be released back into the air, or react with other compounds in the environment to create new toxins.
Thirdhand smoke persists for a long time in indoor environments and is not removed by normal cleaning or under normal ventilation conditions. These chemicals also cling to the clothing you wear while smoking. Thirdhand smoke co-exists with secondhand smoke in areas where smoking takes place.
Research is starting to show that thirdhand smoke has similar health risks as secondhand smoke for non-smokers.
Cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco product, but there are also alternative forms of tobacco that carry similar risks to cigarettes as well as some distinct risks of their own.
Combustible cigarettes are the most common form of commercial tobacco. They consist of tobacco, a filter, added chemicals, and a paper covering.
Cigarettes branded as "light", "mild", or "natural" contain the same toxic chemicals as regular cigarettes and have the same health risks.
- Includes products such as chewing tobacco, snuff, or snus
- Tobacco is kept in the mouth or inhaled through the nose
- These products can increase risk of mouth cancers, stomach cancer, gum disease, tooth decay, and other dental issues
Heated Tobacco Products (HTPs)
- HTPs are a relatively new form of tobacco, also called heat-not-burn products (e.g. IQOS)
- Electronic devices that heat up tobacco, either in stick or capsule form, to create a nicotine emission that can be inhaled without creating smoke
- They do not burn tobacco so they don’t produce carbon monoxide, but they release many of the same chemicals as cigarettes. While these chemicals are released at lower levels than when using cigarettes, they still put you at risk for the same lung, heart, and other health problems as cigarettes.
- HTPs have not been proven to be safer than smoking
Cigars and Pipes
- A cigar is a roll of tobacco that is wrapped in a tobacco leaf. Cigars can come in many flavours and are often slightly sweetened with sugar. Pipe smoking involves loose tobacco put into a pipe
- One large cigar or pipe, typically smoked over the course of an hour, can have as much tobacco as a pack of cigarettes
- Even if you do not inhale when using a pipe or cigar, you are still exposed to the toxic chemicals released by burning tobacco
- Hookahs and shisha are water pipes that are used to smoke specially-made tobacco that comes in different flavours by heating it up over charcoal.
- Some people believe that hookah is safe because they believe that the water that the smoke passes through filters out toxins, but this is not true.
- Hookah/shisha smoke contains the same or even higher concentrations of chemicals as cigarette smoke - one hookah session can be the equivalent of smoking 100 cigarettes
- Non-tobacco based or herbal shisha also produces carbon monoxide and can increase your risk of certain cancers