Kids & Teens

Tobacco Use


Tobacco Use Do you know why tobacco is bad for you?

For centuries, people have chewed and smoked tobacco, which comes from the plant nicotiana tabacum. The reason tobacco is used by so many people is because it contains a powerful drug known as nicotine.

When tobacco is smoked, nicotine is absorbed by the lungs and quickly moved into the bloodstream, where it is circulated throughout the brain. All of this happens very rapidly. In fact, nicotine reaches the brain within 8 seconds after someone inhales tobacco smoke. Nicotine can also enter the bloodstream through the mucous membranes that line the mouth (if tobacco is chewed) or nose (if snuff is used), and even through the skin. Here are some of the effects of nicotine:

  • Nicotine affects the entire body.
  • Nicotine acts directly on the heart to change heart rate and blood pressure.
  • It acts on the nerves that control respiration to change breathing patterns.
  • In high concentrations, nicotine is deadly, in fact one drop of purified nicotine on the tongue will kill a person. It's so lethal that it has been used as a pesticide for centuries.

Did you know that nicotine is as addictive as heroin or cocaine? If someone uses nicotine again and again, such as by smoking cigarettes or cigars or chewing tobacco, his or her body develops a tolerance for it. Eventually, a person can become addicted. Once a person becomes addicted, it is extremely difficult to quit. People who start smoking before the age of 21 have the hardest time quitting, and fewer than 1 in 10 people who try to quit smoking succeed.

America's Leading Preventable Killer

Withdrawal may be bad, but long-term smoking can be much worse. Here are some of the effects of long-term smoking:

  • It raises your blood pressure.
  • Dulls your senses of smell and taste.
  • Reduces your stamina.
  • Wrinkles your skin.

More dangerously, long-term smoking can lead to:

  • fatal heart attack
  • strokes
  • emphysema
  • cancer

You may be surprised to learn that tobacco use causes far more illnesses and death than all other addicting drugs combined. One out every six deaths in the United States is a result of smoking. But even when faced with risk of death, many people keep using tobacco because they are so addicted to nicotine.

Smokeless tobacco also has harmful effects. Chewing tobacco can cause damage to gum tissue and even loss of teeth. It reduces a person's ability to taste and smell. Most importantly, smokeless tobacco contains cancer-causing chemicals that can cause cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, and esophagus.

This can even happen in very young users of chewing tobacco. In fact, most people who develop these cancers were users of chewing tobacco.

Remember, Be Smart, Be Safe!

Great Links On This Topic

Sources: The safety tips in this section were compiled from the following great internet resources: National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health (