Tobacco has a striking history as one of the most popular addictive plant drugs in the world. Originally from The Americas, it was introduced to the rest of the world shortly after the european conquest.
Tobacco use grew enormously after the invention of modern cigarettes and it remains popular even when the indiscriminate dangers of inhaling tobacco smoke are well known to all. The WHO estimates that smoking tobacco will cause 10 million deaths per year worldwide by 2020: A doubling since the year 2000, when it "only" killed 5 million.
Nicotine: The addiction to tobacco can be safely credited to the alkaloid Nicotine, of which approximately 0.6–3.0% can be found in the dry weight of the tobacco plant where it mostly accumulates in the leaves. So generally speaking, tobacco as an agricultural produce points to the dry leaves of the plant.
As nicotine enters the body, it is distributed quickly through the bloodstream and crosses the blood-brain barrier reaching the brain within 7-15 seconds after inhalation. The elimination half life of nicotine in the body is around two hours.
Modern research shows that nicotine acts on the brain to produce a number of effects. Specifically, its addictive nature has been found to show that nicotine activates reward pathways—the circuitry within the brain that regulates feelings of pleasure and euphoria. It stimulates the release of many chemical messengers including acetylcholine, norepinephrine, epinephrine, vasopressin, arginine, dopamine, autocrine agents, and beta-endorphin.
According to the American Heart Association, nicotine addiction has historically been one of the hardest addictions to break, while the pharmacological and behavioral characteristics that determine tobacco addiction are similar to those that determine addiction to drugs such as heroin and cocaine. Nicotine content in cigarettes has slowly increased over the years, and one study found that there was an average increase of 1.6% per year between the years of 1998 and 2005. This was found for all major market categories of cigarettes.
The release of neurotransmitters and hormones is responsible for most of nicotine's effects. Nicotine appears to enhance concentration and memory due to the increase of acetylcholine. It also appears to enhance alertness due to the increases of acetylcholine and norepinephrine. Arousal is increased by the increase of norepinephrine. Pain is reduced by the increases of acetylcholine and beta-endorphin. Anxiety is reduced by the increase of beta-endorphin. Nicotine also extends the duration of positive effects of dopamine and increases sensitivity in brain reward systems.
The problem with smoking tobacco has another proportion, far more dangerous than nicotine alone:
The US Department of Health and Human Services found that the five major tobacco companies were adding a total of 599 chemical compounds during the production process of cigarrettes, though not all at once.
The problem is not so much the additives per se but what happens to them when they are ignited and smoke is produced. When these chemicals are burnt, their properties change and they can become dangerous substances. The 599 additives form more than 4000 chemical compounds. At least 250 are harmful, including about 50-70 that can cause cancer. These carcinogens include acetaldehyde, arsenic, benzene, cadmium, ethylene oxide, formaldehyde, lead, and vinyl chloride. Some of these chemicals can cause cancer of sites directly exposed to the smoke, such as lungs, mouth, and throat. Others enter the bloodstream and are taken to other parts of the body
Not only are these 50-70 or more among 4000 tobacco smoke constituents extremely cancerous substances, others are there to contribute to engendering and maintaining smoking behaviour. Because they support and facilitate all the different rewarding effects of nicotine in the brain.
This is why inhaling tobacco smoke is the most malignant and most enslaving form of tobacco use. Smoking harms nearly every organ of the body and it causes so many diseases reducing the health of smokers in general. In the US alone more deaths are caused each year by tobacco smoke than by all deaths from human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides, and murders combined.
More Reading: The Spanimax Quit Smoking Method.
For a full review of all the dangers of tobacco smoke, you can download the following important report from The Surgeon General.
- The Health Consequences of Smoking: What It Means to You
A full list of the 599 additives in the manufacture of cigarettes can be found here:
- The List of Additives A through C; Terry Martin.
- Nicotine Addiction; American Heart Association.
- Tobacco; UK Department of Health.
- The contents of a cigarette; Chris Pearce.
- Role of nicotine pharmacokinetics in nicotine addiction and nicotine replacement therapy: a review; Le Houezec, J.
- Does nicotine improve cognitive function?; Rusted, J; Graupner, O'Connell, Nicholls.
- Nicotine reduction revisited: science and future directions; Dorothy K Hatsukami, Kenneth A Perkins, Mark G LeSage, David L Ashley, Jack E Henningfield, Neal L Benowitz, Cathy L Backinger and Mitch Zeller.
- What's in a cigarette? The List of Additives A through C; Terry Martin, About.com Guide.
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