Nicotine, the main drug in tobacco, is one of the most heavily used addictive drugs in the United States. In 2008, 28.4 percent of the U.S. population 12 and older used tobacco at least once in the month prior to being interviewed. This figure includes 3.6 million young people age 12 to 17. Young adults aged 18 to 25 reported the highest rate of current use of any tobacco products (44.6 percent) in 2008. Most of them smoked cigarettes.
In 1989, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a report that concluded that cigarettes and other forms of tobacco, such as cigars, pipe tobacco, and chewing tobacco, are addictive and that nicotine is the drug in tobacco that causes addiction. In addition, the report determined that smoking was a major cause of stroke and the third leading cause of death in the United States. Once hooked, nicotine addiction is extremely difficult to overcome.
It’s highly addictive. Nicotine is highly addictive and acts as both a stimulant and a sedative to the central nervous system. The ingestion of nicotine results in an almost immediate “kick” because it causes a discharge of epinephrine from the adrenal cortex. This stimulates the central nervous system, and other endocrine glands, which causes a sudden release of glucose. Stimulation is then followed by depression and fatigue, leading the abuser to seek more nicotine.
Smoking cigarettes and marijuana are closely related. Research shows that youth who smoke cigarettes are fourteen times more likely to try marijuana as those who don’t.
Nicotine accumulates in the body. Nicotine is absorbed readily from tobacco smoke in the lungs, regardless of whether the tobacco smoke is from cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. Nicotine is also absorbed readily when tobacco is chewed. With regular use of tobacco, levels of nicotine accumulate in the body during the day and persist overnight thus exposing daily smokers to the effects of nicotine for 24 hours each day.
There are long-term hazards. In addition to nicotine, cigarette smoke is primarily composed of a dozen gases (mainly carbon monoxide) and tar. The tar in a cigarette, which varies from about 15 mg for a regular cigarette to 7 mg in a low-tar cigarette, exposes the user to a high expectancy rate of lung cancer, emphysema, and bronchial disorders. The carbon monoxide in the smoke increases the chance of cardiovascular diseases.
Second-hand smoke can cause illness. The Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that secondhand smoke causes lung cancer in adults and greatly increases the risk of respiratory illnesses in children and sudden infant death.