A cigarette may be your first thought when it comes to tobacco, but it’s not the only form of tobacco out there that can have detrimental effects on your health. Tobacco can also be smoked in a pipe, it can be chewed, or sniffed (snuff tobacco), or put between the lower lip and cheek to be absorbed (known as “snus”).  In the past, different forms of tobacco have been more prevalent than others, and in some cultures, it still holds significance for celebratory or ceremonial events.  However, over the years, we have learned more and more about the risks of tobacco use, the addictive nature of the substance, and what harm tobacco can do to our bodies.
Tobacco contains the psychoactive drug nicotine—psychoactive means “mind altering”—which is known to be addictive.  This is why smoking cessation products (think of the gum and patches you see advertised on TV to help you quit smoking) work—they provide smaller amounts of nicotine to the body to allow someone to “wean off” of the drug—which is what nicotine is: a drug. That’s why it is so hard to quit: your body becomes dependent on having the substance in it, and when that substance is stopped, withdrawal symptoms (“cravings”) can occur.
Nicotine is addictive because it causes the brain to release dopamine, a brain chemical that is associated with pleasure (exercise, laughter, meditation, and other healthy activities, have been known to increase dopamine production by the brain as well). [2,3] The “feel good” (psychological) effects people get from nicotine are short lived, and this—and other physiological effects—are what causes the addiction to be so hard to break. However, there are definite health risks of tobacco that far outweigh the perceived benefits those using tobacco may experience.
Risks of tobacco use include :
- Cancer – while commonly attributed to lung cancer, tobacco can also cause throat, mouth and esophagus cancers, as well as cancer in different parts of the body not directly in contact with tobacco.
- Heart disease and stroke
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (chronic bronchitis and emphysema)
- Frequent colds/viruses
Less harmful, but more socially awkward issues associated with tobacco use include: stained teeth, bad breath, facial wrinkles at a younger age, oral health problems from both chewing tobacco and cigarettes), decreased sense of smell and taste—not to mention you and your stuff will smell like smoke—which is known as “third hand smoke” and can actually be a health risk, too, as it contains cancer causing chemicals, which linger on fabrics, skin and hair, in rooms, and vehicles long after the smoker has left. [4, 5] Quitting smoking can help to reverse some of the risks acquired from smoking.
Those around people who smoke cigarettes can also be at risk: children who live in a house with someone who smoke are more likely to develop asthma, and those exposed to secondhand smoke are also at risk of lung cancer, nasal sinus cancer, cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke), and lung problems (coughing, wheezing, bronchitis and pneumonia, and again, asthma.  People with lung or heart issues that may be triggered by second hand smoke should always wear medical ID jewelry.