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. (Collins & Lapsley, 2008)
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.
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
- nausea, abdominal cramps and vomiting
- coughing, due to smoke irritation.
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
- rapid decrease in blood pressure and breathing rate
- respiratory arrest (stopping breathing) and death.
60 mg of nicotine taken orally can be fatal for an adult.
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 (Quit Victoria, 2010) that may be experienced include:
- increased risk of stroke and brain damage
- eye cataracts, macular degeneration, yellowing of whites 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 to osteoporosis
- shortness of breath
- chronic bronchitis
- triggering asthma
- 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
- increased susceptibility to infection
- lower fertility and increased risk of miscarriage
- irregular periods
- early menopause
- damaged sperm and reduced sperm