A lot of people do not view cigarettes as a drug, but cigarettes are loaded with hazardous chemicals and they are very addictive. There are 600 ingredients in cigarettes. When burned, they create more than 7,000 chemicals. At least 69 of these chemicals are known to cause cancer, and many of them are highly poisonous. These toxins include: Acetone—found in nail polish remover, Acetic Acid—an ingredient in hair dye, Ammonia—a common household cleaner, Arsenic—used in rat poison; Benzene—found in rubber cement; Butane—used in lighter fluid, Cadmium—an active component in battery acid, Carbon Monoxide—released in car exhaust fumes, Formaldehyde—found in embalming fluid, Hexamine—found in barbecue lighter fluid, Lead—used in batteries, Naphthalene—an ingredient in moth balls, Methanol—a main component in rocket fuel, Tar—material for paving roads, and Toluene—used to manufacture paint.
The main ingredient in cigarettes, chewing tobacco, cigars, and snuff is the addictive drug Nicotine, which is also used as an insecticide.
Cigarettes smoke is one of the leading preventable causes of disease, disability, and death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarette smoking results in more than 443,000 premature deaths in the United States each year — about 1 in every 5 U.S. deaths — and an additional 8.6 million people suffer with a serious illness caused by smoking. Thus, for every one person who dies from smoking, 20 more suffer from at least one serious tobacco-related illness.
How Does Nicotine Affect the Brain?
Nicotine is readily absorbed into the bloodstream when a tobacco product is chewed, inhaled, or smoked. Upon entering the bloodstream, nicotine immediately stimulates the adrenal glands to release the hormone epinephrine (adrenaline). Epinephrine stimulates the central nervous system and increases blood pressure, respiration, and heart rate. A typical smoker will take 10 puffs on a cigarette over a period of 5 minutes that the cigarette is lit. Thus, a person who smokes about 1–½ packs (30 cigarettes) daily gets 300 “hits” of nicotine each day.
Nicotine increases levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, as does heroin, cocaine and marijuana. Dopamine affects the brain pathways that control reward and pleasure. There have been studies that suggest that additional compounds in cigarette smoke, such as acetaldehyde, may enhance nicotine’s affects on the brain.
When smokers try to quit, they will experience withdrawal symptoms including powerful cravings for a cigarette, irritability, attention difficulties, sleep disturbances, and increased appetite.
Exposure to secondhand smoke can cause serious diseases and death. Each year, an estimated 126 million Americans are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke and almost 50 thousand nonsmokers die from diseases caused by secondhand smoke exposure.
Smoking leads most commonly to diseases affecting the heart, liver and lungs, being a major risk factor for heart attacks, strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (including emphysema and chronic bronchitis), and cancer (particularly lung cancer, cancers of the larynx and mouth, and pancreatic cancer). It also causes peripheral vascular disease and hypertension. On average, each cigarette that is smoked is estimated to shorten life by 11 minutes.