Drug Awareness


The health risks of tobacco are well known, but kids and teens continue to smoke. Many young people pick up these habits every year — in fact, 90% of all adult smokers started when they were kids. So it’s important to make sure kids understand the dangers of tobacco use. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the Australia, and can cause cancer, heart disease, and lung disease.

What’s in tobacco Smoke?

There are more than 4000 chemicals in tobacco smoke. Many of these chemicals are poisonous and at least 43 of them are carcinogenic (cause cancer).

The three major chemicals in tobacco smoke are:

  • Nicotine – the chemical on which smokers become dependent.
  • Tar – which is released when a cigarette burns.
  • Carbon monoxide (CO) – a colourless, odourless and very toxic gas. Smokers typically have high levels of CO in the blood.

Effects of tobacco

The effects of any drug (including tobacco) vary from person to person. How tobacco affects a person depends on many things including their size, weight and health, also whether the person is used to taking it. The effects of tobacco, as with any drug, also depend on the amount taken. In Australia, tobacco use is responsible for approximately 15,000 deaths each year. In 2004–2005 approximately three-quarters of a million hospital bed-days were a result of tobacco use.

THERE IS NO SAFE LEVEL OF TOBACCO USE. Use of any drug always carries some risk—even medications can produce unwanted side effects. It is important to be careful when taking any type of drug.

Immediate Effects

Low to moderate doses

Some of the effects that may be experienced after smoking tobacco include:

  • Initial stimulation, then reduction in activity of brain and nervous system.
  • Increased alertness and concentration.
  • Feelings of mild euphoria.
  • Feelings of relaxation.
  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate.
  • Decreased blood flow to fingers and toes.
  • Decreased skin temperature.
  • Bad breath.
  • Decreased appetite.
  • Dizziness.
  • Nausea, abdominal cramps and vomiting.
  • Headache.
  • Coughing, due to smoke irritation.

Higher doses

A high dose of nicotine can cause a person to overdose. This means that a person has taken more nicotine than their body can cope with. The effects of very large doses can include:

  • An increase in the unpleasant effects.
  • Feeling faint.
  • Confusion.
  • Rapid decrease in blood pressure and breathing rate.
  • Seizures.
  • Respiratory arrest (stopping breathing) and death.
  • 60 mg of nicotine taken orally can be fatal for an adult.

Long-term effect

Tar in cigarettes coats the lungs and can cause lung and throat cancer in smokers. It is also responsible for the yellow–brown staining on smokers’ fingers and teeth. Carbon monoxide in cigarettes reduces the amount of oxygen available to the muscles, brain and blood. This means the whole body—especially the heart—must work harder. Over time this causes airways to narrow and blood pressure to rise, which can lead to heart attack and stroke. High levels of CO, together with nicotine, increase the risk of heart disease, hardening of the arteries and other circulatory problems.

Some of the long-term effects of smoking that may be experienced include:

  • Increased risk of stroke and brain damage.
  • Eye cataracts, macular degeneration, yellowing of white of eyes.
  • Loss of sense of smell and taste.
  • Yellow teeth, tooth decay and bad breath.
  • Cancer of the nose, lip, tongue and mouth.
  • Possible hearing loss .
  • Laryngeal and pharyngeal cancers.
  • Contributes of osteoporosis.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Coughing.
  • Chronic bronchitis.
  • Cancer.
  • Triggering asthma.
  • Emphysema.
  • Heart disease.
  • Blockages in blood supply that can lead to a heart attack.
  • High blood pressure (hypertension).
  • Myeloid leukaemia, a cancer that affects bone marrow and organs that make blood.
  • Stomach and bladder cancers.
  • Stomach ulcers.
  • Decreased appetite.
  • Grey appearance.
  • Early wrinkles.
  • Slower healing wounds.
  • Damage to blood vessel walls.
  • Increased likelihood of back pain.

Passive Smoking

Passive smoking is a term used to describe the effect of tobacco smoke on people who don’t smoke but spend time with smokers. Mainstream smoke is smoke drawn through a cigarette into a smoker’s mouth and lungs. Second-hand smoke is the smoke exhaled (breathed-out). Side stream smoke is the smoke that drifts off the end of the cigarette into the air and is completely unfiltered. Some poisons in tobacco smoke are much more concentrated in side stream smoke than in mainstream smoke. There is evidence on passive smoking that it is a significant cause of lung cancer in non-smokers and acute asthma attacks in asthma sufferers. Children of smoking parents also have an increase risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and serious chest illnesses such as pneumonia and bronchitis. The effects of passive smoking will depend on how long the non-smoker spends in a smoke-filled environment, how well the air flows in the area and how many cigarettes are being smoked.

Health benefits of quitting

  • After twelve hours almost all of the nicotine is out of your system.
  • After twenty-four hours the level of carbon monoxide in your blood has dropped dramatically. You now have more oxygen in your bloodstream.
  • After five days most nicotine by-products have gone.
  • Within days your sense of taste and smell improves.
  • Within a month you blood pressure returns to its normal level and your immune system begins to show signs of recovery.
  • Within three months the blood flow to your hands and feet improves.
  • After twelve months your increased risk of dying from heart diseases is half that of a continuing smoker.
  • Stopping smoking reduces the incidence and progression of diseases including chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
  • After ten years of stopping your risk of lung cancer is less than half that of a continuing smoker and continues to decline (providing the disease is not already present).
  • After fifteen years your risk of heart attack and stroke is almost the same as that of a person who has never smoked.

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