Tobacco products are made from the leaves of the tobacco plant, nicotiana tabacum, which is in the ‘nightshade’ family. The leaves of the tobacco plant contain 2-8% nicotine.
(Other nightshade plants include potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant and red peppers. Those plants also contain some nicotine, but much less than the level in tobacco.)
Nicotine is the addictive substance in tobacco. When nicotine is absorbed in the bloodstream, it binds to receptors in the brain which leads to feelings of well-being, improved mood and increased attention.
Tobacco was cultivated and used as a sacred and healing herb by Indigenous peoples in North America long before arrival of Europeans. Over time, tobacco began to be manufactured for recreational and habitual use in cigarettes, pipe tobacco, cigars, and more recently e-cigarettes and vape products.
Tobacco smoke contains more than 4000 chemicals, more than 70 of these are known to cause cancer. All cigarettes are toxic. The World Health Organization states that there is no safe cigarette. These toxic chemicals that a person breathes in through the tobacco smoke end up circulating throughout the body and result in an increased risk of many illnesses.
Smoking can cause cancer almost anywhere in your body:
Smoking causes about 90% (or 9 out of 10) of all lung cancer deaths. More women die from lung cancer each year than from breast cancer.
Smoking is also linked to many chronic diseases including: respiratory disease, stroke and heart disease.
Scientists continue to discover how smoking is linked to more diseases, including such common diseases as diabetes mellitus and rheumatoid arthritis.
Smoking or vaping nicotine leads to addiction. This is why people struggle with quitting, and that’s why it’s important to have a plan and to get support. Some people set a quit day and quit cold turkey. Other people slowly cut back the amount that they are smoking over time. Everyone is different. Many people find that the most effective method is to use a quit-smoking medication (nicotine replacement therapy or a prescription medication) along with support from a healthcare provider or the Smokers’ Helpline.
Some easy steps to get started are:
• Start keeping track of the amount that you are smoking to learn more about when and why you smoke.
• Set a small goal to try reducing the amount that you are currently smoking.
• Change some of your routines around smoking, for ex. if you normally smoke in your car then make your car smokefree.
• Speak to your healthcare provider about treatment options.
There are medications to help with cravings and withdrawal symptoms, along with support programs.
There are five different types of nicotine replacement products and two prescription medications (Champix and Zyban) which are effective in helping people quit smoking. Speak to your healthcare provider about which product may be best for you.
As well, there are smoking cessation support programs available through the Smokers’ Helpline, and apps.
Try changing up your daily routines and plan alternative activities to replace your smoking—try deep breathing, have a healthy snack, drink water, take a break from things, listen to music, get some exercise. Treat yourself good, you deserve it! The cravings will eventually pass and become less intense with time. Speak to your healthcare provider or visit one of the sites listed under Resources for more tips.
If you are addicted to smoking tobacco, there are a variety of treatment options that have been proven to be safe and effective to help people quit smoking, such as medications and counselling. Health professionals recommend that individuals who are trying to quit smoking should try those first.
If unable to quit using those approaches, switching to e-cigarettes and completely replacing all cigarette smoking with vaping will reduce the levels of harmful chemicals that you are inhaling.
When a person smokes tobacco, it is the smoke that contains many of the harmful chemicals that are linked to serious illness. Vaping is less harmful than smoking because nicotine is delivered in a way that does not involve burning and does not produce smoke.
If a person does not smoke tobacco, then it is best to avoid vaping.
Many of e-liquids used in e-cigarettes contain nicotine which is very addictive. For young people, it can affect how the brain develops, and impact memory and concentration.
The aerosol from e-cigarettes contain toxic compounds such as formaldehyde and metals (arsenic, nickel and lead).
Some of the other health impacts of vaping include: nausea, vomiting, chronic cough, throat irritation, damage to airways in the lungs, increased heart rate, damage to the cardiovascular system, and more.
Speak to your doctor, nurse, pharmacist or other health professional for support with quitting smoking or vaping.
The NL Smokers’ Helpline provides a variety of free services to help people quit successfully. Connect with the Helpline by phone (1-800-363-5864) or online (smokershelp.net) to learn more about programs available in the province.