Used by almost one billion people around the world, Tobacco is arguably the world’s most widely used drug. Tobacco has a range of negative health effects and is a major risk factor for a variety of serious conditions, particularly heart disease.
What is Tobacco?
Tobacco itself is a leaf extracted from the Tobacco plant. While the Tobacco leaf itself isn’t a drug in the traditional sense, it contains large amounts of nicotine, which is a powerful and addictive stimulant. Tobacco also releases carcinogenic substances when it’s smoked.
Most people consume Tobacco through cigarettes, with an estimated 967 million people around the world classed as regular cigarette smokers. Tobacco is also smoked via cigars and pipes. It can also be consumed in chewable form as smokeless Tobacco.
While rates of Tobacco use are declining in the developed world, Tobacco is still a major health risk. Many of the world’s Tobacco smokers live in developing countries in which awareness of and education on the health risks of Tobacco is limited.
What Effects Does it Have?
Tobacco contains large amounts of nicotine, with the average cigarette smoker absorbing 2 mg of nicotine from each cigarette.
Most of the short-term effects of Tobacco are the result of its nicotine content. The nicotine in a cigarette quickly enters into the body through smoking and causes a variety of effects that can last for anywhere from 20 minutes to up to two hours. These effects include:
- Changes in mood. Nicotine is a stimulant, meaning it can provide a boost in alertness by affecting certain receptors in the brain.
- In large doses, nicotine changes from having a stimulant effect to acting as a sedative, meaning that smoking multiple cigarettes (or a larger amount of Tobacco, such as that contains in a cigar) can cause tiredness and fatigue.
- Because nicotine is highly addictive, many Tobacco smokers use this drug because of its psychoactive effects, but because of its addictive properties and the difficulty of stopping.
Harmful Effects of Tobacco
Smoking Tobacco, whether in the form of cigarettes, cigars of pipe Tobacco, is extremely bad for your health. Organisations such as the World Health Organization believe that Tobacco causes or contributes to as many as 10% of all deaths worldwide, every year.
The harmful effects of Tobacco range from short-term changes in health and kidney function to long-term conditions such as heart disease. We’ve listed some of the most significant negative health effects of Tobacco consumption below.
Tobacco contains a variety of substances that are extremely bad for your heart, both in the short term and over an extended period of Tobacco use.
In the short term, Tobacco causes an increase in heart rate, a reduction in the amount of oxygen that’s carried in your blood and an immediate, potentially dangerous increase in blood pressure due to the effects of nicotine on the diameter of arteries throughout the body.
Over the long term, smoking can cause significant damage to your cardiovascular system. Your risk of death from heart disease, peripheral vascular disease and stroke all increase significantly if you regularly smoke cigarettes or other Tobacco products.
Scientific data shows that regular smokers aged under 40 are 500% more likely to experience a heart attack than non-smokers.
Smoking Tobacco can also cause a hazardous change in the ratio of HDL to LDL cholesterol — a factor that puts further strain on the heart. Many smokers, despite potentially having other habits that are healthy, can have high cholesterol as a result of their Tobacco use.
Tobacco is a major cause of many forms of cancer, ranging from lung cancer to laryngeal cancer and cancer in organs such as the kidneys. Tobacco smokers have a significantly elevated risk of developing cancer than non-smokers.
Approximately 90% of lung cancer cases worldwide are the result of smoking. Study data also shows that Tobacco smokers have a 2,000% higher risk of dying from lung cancer prior to age 85 than non-smokers.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
Smoking Tobacco products also significantly increases the risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This is a serious lung disease that results in reduced airflow to the lungs, causing symptoms such as shortness of breath and a persistent cough.
Smoking cigarettes and other Tobacco products can also damage the kidneys, causing a range of conditions such as chronic kidney disease (CKD). Smokers with diabetes also have a greater risk of developing diabetic kidney disease as a result of Tobacco use.
Erectile Dysfunction (ED)
In men, cigarette smoking is linked to erectile dysfunction. Smokers are 85% more likely to have issues developing and maintaining an erection than non-smokers, largely because of the effects of nicotine and other additives in cigarettes on the flow of blood to the penis.
Other Negative Health Effects
Tobacco also has numerous other negative health effects. Use of Tobacco, even occasionally, is linked to an increase in the risk of miscarriages in pregnant women. Smoking can also interfere with other medications, causing potentially hazardous drug interactions.
There is also scientific evidence to suggest that long-term Tobacco use has negative effects on cognitive function, stress and anxiety. Smoking is even linked to a higher likelihood of romantic issues, with smokers more than 50% more likely to divorce than non-smokers.
How to Stop Using Tobacco
The most effective way to avoid the negative health effects of Tobacco is to never use Tobacco products in the first place. As nicotine is highly addictive, many smokers begin a lifelong habit without ever meaning to after becoming addicted to cigarettes.
If you do smoke cigarettes or other Tobacco products, quitting significantly reduces your risk of experiencing the negative health effects listed above. There are a variety of ways to quit using Tobacco, including:
- Unassisted, or “cold turkey” quitting, which involves completely stopping Tobacco use without the use of medications or other assistance products. Quitting cold turkey can often be successful, though many smokers experience relapses using this approach.
- Electronic cigarettes. These devices allow smokers to inhale nicotine through vapor with a significantly lower level of carcinogens and other hazardous chemicals, compared to conventional cigarettes.
- Medications, such as nicotine replacement therapy patches or gum. These medications are designed to provide nicotine without the harmful effects of Tobacco smoke, allowing smokers to gradually taper down their dose and quit smoking over an extended period.
- Reducing cigarette consumption, or “cutting down to quit.” This approach involves slowly lowering the amount of Tobacco consumed on a daily basis, either by smoking cigarettes with a low nicotine content or reducing the number of cigarettes smoked each day.
Because Tobacco is so addictive, it can often take several attempts before a user successfully quits for the long term.
Despite its popularity, Tobacco is a serious drug that deserves serious attention. If you smoke cigarettes, cigars or consume Tobacco via other means, it’s important to consider the effects it could have on your health, relationships and quality of life over the long term.