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What is it about smoking that is so harmful?


Tobacco smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals. More than 50 of these chemicals can cause cancer in humans. Some are dangerous in other ways. Here are some of the ones that can hurt you the most.

Nicotine

Nicotine is an addictive drug. It keeps you smoking once you start. When you inhale tobacco smoke, nicotine reaches your brain in just seven seconds. This sudden burst of nicotine causes an instant "high."

Of course, nicotine isn’t the only thing that keeps you smoking. You learn to enjoy the taste, feel and smell of tobacco products. You learn that activities like drinking coffee or talking on the phone begin to feel incomplete without a cigarette. And you learn that smoking can make you feel relaxed or pick you up.

Carbon monoxide

Carbon monoxide is a gas that you can’t see or smell. In large amounts, it starves your body of oxygen. In smaller amounts over a long time period, it contributes to cardiovascular disease (of the heart and blood vessels).

For pregnant women, it reduces the supply of oxygen to the baby. This can affect how the baby develops.

Other substances - the "tar" component

About half of the 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke are found naturally in the tobacco leaf. The other half are created by the chemical reactions when tobacco is burned. A few more are added during drying, and for flavor. Many of these chemicals together form a sticky black residue known as "tar."

Here are just a few of the more dangerous poisons in tobacco smoke:

  • acetone
  • ammonia
  • arsenic
  • benzene
  • toluene
  • cadmium
  • cyanide
  • formaldehyde
  • lead
  • mercury
  • nickel
  • phenol
  • styrene


Are some forms of tobacco safer than others?

There is no "safe" form of tobacco.

Pipe and cigar smoke contains many of the same harmful ingredients as cigarettes. Sometimes, the amounts are even higher.

Chewing tobacco and snuff aren’t safe either. These forms of tobacco also contain nicotine and other harmful substances that can lead to cancer and other diseases.

More information on smokeless tobacco.
 


The myth of light cigarettes

You may think that smoking "light" or "mild" cigarettes will expose you to less of these poisons, but this is not always true. People tend to change how they smoke to make up for it, so they end up getting as much of the poison as they would with a regular cigarette.

More information on "the light cigarette myth".

Cigarette labels have tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide ratings. These are just estimates of what is in the smoke in that brand. A standard smoking machine calculates these numbers, but there is nothing standard about the way people smoke.

The amount of poison goes into your body really depends on how you smoke. For example, you will inhale more poison if you:

  • inhale deeply

  • take more puffs

  • hold the smoke in your lungs longer

  • smoke the cigarette right down to the filter

  • cover the vent holes that are near the filter.

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