Nicotine is a stimulant found in the tobacco plant and is the main addictive ingredient in cigarettes. It is most often smoked, but it can also be chewed or, more rarely, inhaled without being ignited. Nicotine is known to be one of the most addictive drugs in existence, even compared to the addictiveness of heroin and cocaine. It is associated with many health problems. Smoking kills millions of people around the world every year.
Nicotine is widely available in almost all countries, although in the developed world there is a gradual attempt to change attitudes to rid society of smoking. This policy is mainly due to its long-term harmful effects, which expose users to a very high risk of fatal health problems, but also to the perception of smoking as an anti-social practice. Smoking is known to cause many serious health problems, including heart failure and cancer. But it can cause many other short- and long-term problems, ranging from unpleasant ailments to life-threatening conditions.
Paradoxically, nicotine is considered both a stimulant and a relaxant because of the different effects it can have on the brain and its level in the blood, which depends on the way it is taken. It can therefore make users feel alert or relaxed depending on how it is taken: short, concentrated inhalations will have a stimulating effect, while longer, slower inhalations will promote relaxation.
The drug itself is not technically considered highly addictive, but when combined with other chemicals found in tobacco and other substances, it is known to be highly addictive. By all accounts, quitting smoking is particularly difficult, but nicotine patches and electronic cigarettes are available to help with the process. Nevertheless, many people end up succumbing to smoking-related illnesses, despite numerous attempts to quit.
In the form of tobacco, nicotine is readily available in almost every country in the world but, as such, it has few street names compared to other drugs. It is sometimes referred to by slang names such as “fag”, “dry”, “rod” or “garette”. These names vary from country to country and even from region to region.
Tobacco distribution channels are well established in modern society and many brands are found in stores, supermarkets and tobacco shops around the world. Tobacco is usually offered in the form of ready-to-use cigarettes or rolling tobacco, which the user buys separately from the filters and paper to roll it himself. There is also a well-established trade in counterfeit cigarettes, which are not sold through authorized channels and are considered even more dangerous than regular cigarettes.
Tobacco that is chewed is called “chewing tobacco” or “chewing tobacco”, although this method of consumption is not very widespread compared to smoked tobacco.
Most people smoke tobacco for its calming effect, although some use it to increase alertness. Others smoke only when drinking alcohol or in certain social situations, but almost all smoke sometimes out of habit rather than for any supposed benefit.
The harmful effects of smoking are well known and are not necessarily related to nicotine itself, but to other chemicals in tobacco. These effects do not only affect smokers, but also people nearby who may inadvertently inhale tobacco smoke. This “passive smoking” is responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths per year, in addition to the 5 million smokers who die each year as a direct result of smoking. In addition, in pregnant women, smoking is known to be harmful to the fetus, delaying its development and causing complications.
Smoking significantly increases the risk of heart and lung problems, as well as causing various forms of cancer and other complications. It is also responsible for a number of side effects, which are not life-threatening but are nevertheless unpleasant: discoloration of teeth and hands, bad breath and the lingering smell of tobacco smoke on the body and clothes.
The more cigarettes a person smokes, the more likely he or she is to develop serious tobacco-related diseases. A person who smokes regularly throughout his or her life has a high chance of dying from a tobacco-related disease.
Nicotine can be synthesized artificially, but is most commonly found in tobacco. Tobacco can be grown anywhere in the world, provided the climate is warm and humid enough. Tobacco cultivation is perfectly legal in almost all countries and is widespread on all densely populated continents. It is known to be relatively lucrative.
The tobacco plant originated in the Americas and was first brought to Europe by explorers before being commercialized. The United States remains one of the world’s largest tobacco producers, along with India, Brazil and the EU, although China accounts for nearly one-third of global production. Much of this tobacco is exported around the world for use in the manufacture of cigarettes.
The early popularity of tobacco on virtually every continent where it was introduced led to the rapid establishment and growth of the tobacco industry worldwide. In the 19th century, a process was invented in America to mechanically roll cigarettes, which revolutionized manufacturing. Tobacco production and consumption grew rapidly until the middle of the 20th century, before it was scientifically proven that smoking causes cancer and other adverse health effects.
As a result, tobacco began to be more strictly regulated in many countries, primarily through increased tobacco taxes and duties aimed at reducing demand while increasing revenue. Cigarette advertising has also been further restricted in order to reduce the number of new smokers.
Tobacco production is largely dominated by multinational companies operating in many countries, although cigarettes are often manufactured under license in the continent where they are to be sold. These companies typically own and market several brands of cigarettes. This means that a brand purchased in one country will be very similar, if not identical, to another brand purchased elsewhere, the main difference being the packaging, which depends on local laws. The tobacco itself will be similar. While the nicotine content varies from brand to brand, it can also vary within the same brand, depending on where the cigarettes are manufactured.
The transport of cigarettes from one country to another by individuals is legal, but only in small quantities and for personal use, since the sale of cigarettes is highly regulated and must be done under license in most countries. This system is primarily intended to raise tax revenues, but it also serves to control the industry by ensuring that it operates in strict compliance with the law.
Many governments, especially in the developed world, are faced with the paradox of ridding society of tobacco use for health and social reasons (since tobacco-related diseases are a huge burden on health services) but without giving up the taxes they can raise. For this reason, smoking is not yet completely illegal in any country, although in some areas there are restrictions on where smoking can take place. Authorities prefer to increase taxes on cigarettes in order to discourage smokers while increasing their revenues.
Alongside the legitimate cigarette trade, there is an international black market in counterfeit cigarettes. These are illegal, yet are produced and sold in large quantities around the world. They often resemble well-known brands and are sold at a more affordable price by informal networks. However, they are not of the same quality and often contain harmful chemicals that are much more dangerous than those found in regular cigarettes.
Authorities have a strict policy against counterfeit cigarettes, which not only cost them tax revenue but can be very harmful to health. Many counterfeit cigarettes originate in China, but they are manufactured in virtually every country that produces legitimate cigarettes.
In developed countries, smoking is on the decline due to changing attitudes, media coverage of its harmful effects and its increasingly prohibitive cost. In contrast, smoking is on the rise in developing countries, in part because of less stringent tobacco advertising laws and the revenue streams it represents for these countries. Overall, the number of smokers is estimated to be increasing worldwide, even though smoking is becoming less socially acceptable in the West.
FACTS AND STATISTICS
- Nicotine is one of the main ingredients in tobacco, one of the most widely used recreational drugs ever. It is also one of the most addictive and known to be very harmful to health.
- It is produced and consumed on every densely populated continent in the world.
- While nicotine is not considered very addictive on its own, it is much more addictive when mixed with other substances in tobacco.
- Tobacco is usually smoked, but it can also be chewed or inhaled.
- Although a cigarette usually contains about 10mg of nicotine, only a small amount is absorbed by the body. However, this amount is enough to create an addiction.
- In developed countries, smoking is increasingly frowned upon by society and in many countries, such as France and the United Kingdom, smoking is banned in public places.
- Smoking is very harmful to health. It is known to significantly increase the risk of heart disease and cancer and to cause many other adverse health effects.
- Although smoking is declining in developed countries, it is growing even faster in developing countries.
- Unusually for a drug, nicotine is considered both a stimulant and a relaxant, depending on how much is used and how it is taken.
- Tobacco originated in the Americas and was first introduced to Europe by 16th century explorers. It is now grown all over the world.
- The health risks associated with smoking were predicted for hundreds of years, including by James I of England, but were not scientifically proven until the mid-20th century.
- Nicotine is considered one of the most difficult drugs to quit, along with heroin and cocaine.
- Smoking kills more than 5 million people worldwide each year. This accounts for nearly 10% of annual deaths worldwide.
- In the United States, 90% of lung cancer deaths are attributed to smoking.
- In this country, 38,000 deaths per year are attributed to passive smoking.
- In 2004, there were 600,000 deaths worldwide due to passive smoking.
- In 2000, the number of smokers would have been 1.22 billion in the world. In 2025, this figure should reach 1.9 billion.
- In 2030, the WHO estimates that there will be 10 million annual deaths due to tobacco related diseases.
- 80% of the world’s smokers are from developing countries.
- Between 1965 and 2008, the percentage of smokers in the total population dropped by half in the United States.
- In the United Kingdom, 27% of cigarettes and 68% of rolling tobacco were sold on the black market in 2008.
- Smokers are up to 6 times more likely to have a heart attack than non-smokers.
- It is estimated that half of all smokers die from a tobacco-related disease.
- If current trends continue, there will be up to 1 billion smoking-related deaths in the 21st century.
SIGNS OF ADDICTION
The signs of tobacco addiction are relatively easy to hide, which makes them somewhat difficult to detect. Because the stimulant effects of smoking are so limited, there are very few visible physiological signs. Nevertheless, a person addicted to nicotine who has not smoked for a long time will experience withdrawal effects, including an overwhelming urge to smoke and increased irritability.
Smoking causes discoloration of teeth, hands and fingernails, and the lingering smell of smoke on clothes and body can be difficult to mask. Frequent hand washing, tooth brushing, and use of deodorants and breath fresheners may be a sign of smoking.
Of course, smoking is legal in most countries, so people rarely need to hide it. Going out to smoke often and consuming cigarettes “in a row” (one after the other) are obvious signs of addiction. The need to smoke in social situations where no one else is smoking is another sign, as are repeated false excuses for going out or being alone. A strong persistent cough, called a “smoker’s cough,” and an excessively long recovery from illness are also signs of tobacco addiction.
The costly nature of smoking and its addictive potential often deplete smokers’ incomes. Although it is relatively rare for smokers to resort to stealing to satisfy their nicotine addiction, persistent money problems can be a sign of nicotine addiction.
Nicotine addiction is known to be one of the most difficult to overcome. The substance is physiologically and psychologically addictive and its wide accessibility makes it particularly easy to relapse. In fact, some people believe that once you are addicted to nicotine, it is impossible to completely break the addiction, even after several years.
In the past, the most common method of dealing with nicotine addiction was cold turkey. This method is still widely used but it is rarely effective. Because of the addictive nature of the drug, it takes a great deal of willpower to successfully manage withdrawal in this way, which, while not life threatening, can be difficult to overcome.
As the nicotine is released from the body, the craving gradually decreases in intensity, but the smoker will still have to find a way to deal with the psychological aspect. Many smokers have smoked for a long time to relieve stress or simply out of boredom or habit. Replacing cigarettes with another less harmful habit can remedy this, as can avoiding situations where a smoker would normally smoke. Indeed, asking others to help the smoker when he or she is in withdrawal or to convince him or her not to relapse can be an effective way to quit.
Smoking, especially over a period of years, can take a huge toll on the body. Stopping smoking significantly reduces the risk, but the damage may already be there. People who have smoked for a long time will be at greater risk of heart and lung disease and cancer. It is therefore advisable to consult a doctor to diagnose and treat any health problems. The doctor may also prescribe a treatment, such as nicotine replacement therapy, to make quitting easier.
While cold turkey is feasible, there are many other treatments available over the counter in stores, supermarkets and pharmacies. These include nicotine patches, gums, inhalers and electronic cigarettes, which deliver nicotine to the bloodstream without the harmful chemicals in cigarettes. The amount of nicotine administered can be gradually reduced until the smoker is ready to quit completely and has overcome the psychological addiction.
Less orthodox techniques are also available, such as acupuncture and hypnosis. The effectiveness of these techniques is debated.
The best way to avoid the potential damage of smoking is, of course, not to start smoking.
- NIDA for Teens:teens.drugabuse.gov/facts/facts_nicotine1.php#common_names
- National Cancer Institute:www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/tobacco/statisticssnapshot