Nicotine and Health Hazards - 3900

Nicotine is one of the most heavily used addictive drugs in the United States and it has severe health hazards.

In 2003, 29.8 percent of the U.S. population 12 and older?70.8 million people?used nicotine at least once in the month prior to being interviewed. This figure includes 3.6 million young people age 12 to 17. There were no statistically significant changes in past-month rates of the different tobacco products among this age group between 2002 and 2003. However, there were significant declines in past-year and lifetime cigarette use between 2002 and 2003. In addition, the rate of past-month cigarette use decreased among 13 year-olds. Young adults aged 18 to 25 reported the highest rate of current use of any tobacco products (44.8 percent).

Cigarette smoking has been the most popular method of nicotine abuse since the beginning of the 20th century. In 1989, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a report that concluded that cigarettes and other forms of tobacco, such as cigars, pipe tobacco, and chewing tobacco, are addictive and that nicotine is the drug in tobacco that causes addiction. The report also determined that smoking was a major cause of stroke and the third leading cause of death in the United States. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, causing approximately 440,000 premature deaths each year and resulting in an annual cost of more than $75 billion in direct medical costs.

Health Hazards

Nicotine is highly addictive. Nicotine provides an almost immediate "kick".  This stimulates the central nervous system, which causes a sudden release of glucose. Stimulation is then followed by depression and fatigue, leading the abuser to seek more nicotine.

Nicotine is absorbed readily from tobacco smoke in the lungs, and it does not matter whether the tobacco smoke is from cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. Nicotine also is absorbed readily when tobacco is chewed. With regular use of tobacco, levels of nicotine accumulate in the body during the day and persist overnight. Thus, daily smokers or chewers are exposed to the effects of nicotine for 24 hours each day.

Nicotine addiction results in withdrawal symptoms when a person tries to stop smoking. For example, a study found that when chronic smokers were deprived of cigarettes for 24 hours, they had increased anger, hostility, and aggression, and loss of social cooperation. Persons suffering from withdrawal also take longer to regain emotional equilibrium following stress. During periods of abstinence and/or craving, smokers have shown impairment across a wide range of psychomotor and cognitive functions, such as language comprehension.

Women who smoke generally have earlier menopause. If women smoke cigarettes and also take oral contraceptives, they are more prone to cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases than are other smokers; this is especially true for women older than 30.

Pregnant women who smoke cigarettes run an increased risk of having stillborn or premature infants or infants with low birthweight. Children of women who smoked while pregnant have an increased risk for developing conduct disorders. National studies of mothers and daughters have also found that maternal smoking during pregnancy increased the probability that female children would smoke and would persist in smoking.

Adolescent smokeless tobacco users are more likely than nonusers to become cigarette smokers. Studies are now beginning to explain how social influences, such as observing adults or other peers smoking, affect whether adolescents begin to smoke cigarettes. Research has shown that teens are generally resistant to antismoking messages.

In addition to nicotine, cigarette smoke is primarily composed of a dozen gases (mainly carbon monoxide) and tar. The tar in a cigarette, which varies from about 15 mg for a regular cigarette to 7 mg in a low-tar cigarette, exposes the user to an increased risk of lung cancer, emphysema, and bronchial disorders.

The carbon monoxide in the smoke increases the chance of cardiovascular diseases. The Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that secondhand smoke causes lung cancer in adults and greatly increases the risk of respiratory illnesses in children and sudden infant death.

Extent of Nicotine Use

Despite the health hazards associated with nicotine use, young Americans continue to smoke according to the 2004 Monitoring the Future Survey (MTF). However, 30-day smoking rates among high school students are declining from peaks reached in 1996 for 8th-graders (21.0 percent) and 10th-graders (30.4 percent) and in 1997 for seniors (36.5 percent). In 2004, 30-day rates reached the lowest levels ever reported by MTF for 8th-graders (9.2 percent) and 10th-graders (16.0 percent). Twenty-five percent of high school seniors reported smoking during the month preceding their responses to the survey.

Lifetime cigarette use among 10th-graders decreased significantly, from 43.0 percent in 2003 to 40.7 percent in 2004. Among 10th-graders, there was a significant decrease in the number of students reporting that they smoke one-half pack or more cigarettes per day.

The decrease in smoking rates among young Americans corresponds to several years in which increased proportions of teens said they believe there is a "great" health risk associated with cigarette smoking and expressed disapproval of smoking one or more packs of cigarettes a day. Students\ personal disapproval of smoking had risen for some years, but showed no further increase in 2004. In 2004, 85.7 percent of 8th-graders, 82.7 percent of 10th-graders, and 76.2 percent of 12th-graders stated that they "disapprove" or "strongly disapprove" of people smoking one or more packs of cigarettes per day. In addition, 8th- and 10th-graders reported significant increases in the perceived understanding of nicotine use and it\'s health hazards.