Overview: Its expensive, offensive, addictive,
and practically guaranteed to ruin your health. Still, despite
mounting evidence of its health hazards, massive judgments against
the tobacco industry for product liability, and major tax increases,
smoking is still very much with us. It’s still such a part of
so many lives, in fact, that the World Health Organization estimates
that it kills someone, somewhere, every 10 seconds.
Appearance: Cigarettes are made from the shredded
leaves of the tobacco plant. Shredded tobacco is also used in
pipe smoking mixtures, while cigars are rolled from whole-leaf
Actions/Effects: The drug nicotine is a stimulant which
is released from tobacco as it burns and is inhaled into the
body. A typical cigarette contains 10-20 mg of nicotine, but
less than 1 mg reaches the smoker’s lungs. Nicotine is absorbed
into the bloodstream by structures in the lungs called alveoli.
In the central nervous system, nicotine acts on receptors for
the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, raising heart rate and blood
pressure. Subjective effects include feelings of relaxation,
increased alertness, and decreased appetite.
Risks/Side Effects: Common problems include coughing, shortness
of breath, and increased susceptibility to colds. Risks increase
over time, and include a higher risk of pneumonia, bronchitis,
and oral and throat cancers. Long-term smoking can cause heart
disease, stroke, emphysema, and lung cancer. Smoking during pregnancy
is linked with a number of problems, especially lower birthweight.
In addition, smoking by the mother — both during pregnancy and
after delivery — increases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Addiction Potential: Nicotine is highly addictive — so much
so that 70 percent of smokers who quit ultimately relapse during
the first year, according to a recent report by the American
Trends: Measures to restrict smoking and to discourage teens
from starting seem to be paying off. Smoking rates are down among
virtually all U.S. demographic groups, and teen smoking — which
surged briefly during the 1990’s — has fallen sharply in recent
Demographics: Today, 45.9 million American adults smoke,
which represents 20.6 percent of the adult population, down from
43 percent in the mid-’60s. Teen smoking is also off: The number
of high school seniors in 2010 who admitted lighting up in the
previous month totalled 19.2 percent, down from 31.4 percent