Information about the Effects & Risks of Smoking:

Nicotine Addiction - An Overview

Nicotine Addiction

Nicotine is a toxin found in the tobacco plant, and its main function is to serve as deterrent when it comes to insects wanting to eat the plant. Nicotine is said to be more lethal than arsenic, venoms of different snakes, strychnine, etc. Interestingly though, once nicotine reaches the reward pathways in the human brain, a surge of dopamine is released, resulting in the much spoken about ‘aah’ factor.

The most common means of nicotine finding its way into our system is through cigarette smoke. It is owing to the nicotine present in the cigarette that the act of smoking seems pleasurable. And nicotine is undoubtedly one of the biggest reasons that the cigarette industry has grown at a steady pace. However, smoking counts as a major preventable cause of death/disease, and also causes a significant number of premature deaths each year.

Tobacco smoke contains a plethora of chemicals, and nicotine is amongst the primary ones. Even smokeless tobacco contains nicotine. Nicotine dependency is considered to be amongst the hardest addictions to break, and even when a smoker witnesses the damage that nicotine can cause first-hand, smoking can still be quite difficult to quit. While it is the nicotine that keeps a smoker coming back for more, the other constituents present in cigarettes lead to a considerably higher rate of cancer, strokes, and heart & lung diseases in smokers. Nicotine dependency can also lead to infertility, complications during pregnancy as well as complications in a newborn baby’s health.

The Effects of Nicotine:

Not only does nicotine work in the body releasing dopamine, it also activates the pathways that release adrenaline and serotonin, thereby impacting impulsivity and mood. Over a period of time the physical changes build a new ‘neuro chemical’ system which revolves entirely around the presence of nicotine within the system. At this stage, the individual is truly addicted. Attempts to stop using nicotine at this stage or later would almost definitely result in withdrawal symptoms. The protective adjustments made by the brain would ensure that any attempt made to stop smoking would result in discomfort as the brain’s circuitry senses the absence of nicotine as a cause for concern.


More than fifteen thousand Australians die due to smoking each year, and is the largest ‘preventable’ cause of early death and disease. The percentage of individuals aged over 14 who smoke everyday in Australia has gone down considerably, from 30.5% in 1988 down to 16.6% in 2007. Across the world, ten percent of the adult population smokes; and in the US this figure stands at 20%. In the US alone around 440,000 people die each year because of tobacco related illnesses. Now, there are around 1.3-1.4 billion smokers in the world, with a large chunk living in developing countries. And given the ongoing trends, by 2020 tobacco would account for approximately 10 million deaths each year.

Facts about Nicotine Dependency:

• Nicotine is poisonous, and the reason that reason that a smoker does not immediately die is because of the miniscule quantities of nicotine present in each cigarette.
• Nicotine is highly addictive, and nicotine dependency is often compared with heroin and cocaine dependency in terms of difficulty to quit.
• Relapses are quite common in efforts to quit smoking.
• Apart from nicotine, cigarettes have over 4,000 different chemicals; many of which are carcinogenic (cancer causing substances).
• Smoking for around 15 years, at about 20 cigarettes per day, should result in about one kg of tar in a smoker’s lungs.
• A regular smoker’s life expectancy would go down by around 7 to 8 years (at about 7 to 8 minutes per cigarette).
• Each month, tobacco companies in Australia lose around 12,000 customers. While around 10,000 manage to quit, most of the others are ones who have passed away because of smoking related illnesses.
• Data collected from the ‘Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’ shows that almost 80% of the smokers have tried quitting at least once, and in the last year more than 30% have tried stopping.

The Alternatives – Quitting Help:

Nicotine Free Cigarettes:

Nicotine free cigarettes are ones that do not contain any tobacco or nicotine. One can find a number of brands when it comes to these nicotine free cigarettes, and these cigarettes use various herbs/plants as a base. These cigarettes are often used as substitutes to smoking conventional cigarettes, and a number of people use them as nicotine cessation aids. However, owing to the various compounds present in these cigarettes, smoking them isn’t entirely safe, with research showing that they too can be carcinogenic.

Nicotine Replacement Therapy:

Nicotine replacement therapy refers to a smoker quitting smoking but using a different medium to get his/her quota of nicotine supply. Different NRT aids include nicotine gums, patches, lozenges, inhalers, and nasal sprays. The use of NRT aids is said to increase the chances of quitting by around 50%, but in order to succeed, additional support that is provided to the individual in the form of counselling, etc. also plays an important role. When a person stops smoking, these aids continue to supply him/her with the nicotine that is required to keep the withdrawal symptoms at bay, and the intake of nicotine through this route is regulated and gradually reduced. The use of nicotine replacement therapy to quit smoking is generally an 8 to 12 week long exercise.

Even though an increasing number of smokers continue to battle their nicotine dependency, more and more people continue to smoke their first cigarette. The feeling of euphoria that is often linked to smoking is a result of the nicotine present therein, and this is what keeps the smoker coming back for more. The good thing is that awareness in the general public is on the rise, and help to battle nicotine dependency is available in various forms. So if you wish to fight nicotine dependency and feel that it is an uphill battle, at least take heart in knowing that there’s plenty of help that you can avail of.