Tobacco

Last revised: April 11, 2024

Tobacco is a plant grown for its leaves. The leaves are then used to make commercial tobacco products.

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Types of tobacco

Traditional tobacco

Traditional tobacco is different from commercial tobacco. Indigenous people have used traditional tobacco (also called ceremonial or sacred tobacco) for thousands of years. Traditional tobacco comes only from the plant and does not contain added chemicals. Traditional tobacco is used in ceremonial or sacred rituals for healing, purifying and giving thanks.

Commercial tobacco

Commercial tobacco products are made with the leaves of the tobacco plant and chemicals. Commercial tobacco products can be smoked or ‘chewed’ and are sold for profit by companies.

  • Smoked commercial tobacco products include cigarettes, cigars, cigarillos (mini cigar) and water pipes (hookah).
    • Cigarettes are the most common commercial tobacco product, which uses finely cut tobacco leaves that are rolled in thin paper.
    • A cigarillo is a mini-cigar wrapped in a tobacco leaf instead of paper.
    • A cigar is tobacco rolled in tobacco leaves. Cigars are much larger than cigarillos and cigarettes.
  • ‘Chewed’ commercial tobacco products include chewing tobacco or wet snuff which is held inside the lip or cheek. 
    • Chew is a smokeless tobacco product using shredded or twisted tobacco leaves.
    • Snus is fine, ground up tobacco that often comes in a tea bag-like form.

Commercial tobacco smoke contains between 4000 and 7000 chemicals and 70 of those chemicals are known to cause cancer (carcinogens).

The chemicals come from three places:

  • In the tobacco plant and soil
  • From the process of burning known as combustion (what the person smoking inhales as well as the smoke from the end of a burning cigarette)
  • Added by the Tobacco Industry to make the product less harsh to reduce throat irritation and increase the risk of nicotine addiction; tobacco companies promote it to people of all ages despite the high risk of nicotine addiction
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Effects of smoking

Short-term effects from smoking include:

  • Hair and clothing that smell of smoke
  • Bad taste in mouth and bad breath
  • Yellow teeth and fingers

Short-term health effects of smoking

  • Coughing
  • Trouble breathing
  • Dry irritated throat
  • Dizziness
  • Increase heart rate and blood pressure
  • Frequent colds, flu, ear infections
  • Less energy and strength
  • Nicotine dependence

Long-term health effects from smoking:

  • Is the main cause of lung cancer and increases the risk of other cancers of the mouth, throat, colon, bladder, pancreas
  • Causes most cases of lung diseases such as emphysema
  • Is a major cause of heart disease and stroke
  • Affects the immune system (the system in the body that protects us from getting sick) making people who smoke more prone to colds, flu and pneumonia

Nicotine

Nicotine (found in tobacco leaf) is a stimulant that increases heart rate and blood pressure. It can affect brain development, memory and concentration (potentially harm a developing brain).

Nicotine can take as little as 10 seconds to reach the brain after being inhaled and releases chemicals in the brain that can make someone feel more alert and calm.

As a person introduces nicotine into their body, they will begin to crave more, which increases their risk of nicotine addiction and using tobacco products for a long time.

Addiction

Addiction is not a choice and does not mean someone is bad or weak. Addiction refers to a complex medical condition that changes how the brain works. It affects a person’s reward, motivation (when we want to do something), stress and executive function systems (allow us to plan, pay attention, remember instructions and keep track of what we are doing).

Addiction can be related to some behaviors like gambling, gaming and working out too much. People who smoke cigarettes often say there are certain routines in their day that make them want a cigarette. For example, talking on the phone with a friend. They also feel less stress when they have a cigarette in their hand and through hand to mouth gestures.

Addictions are defined by the 4 “C”s:

  • Use becomes Compulsive (uncontrollable urge)
  • Continues even with harmful Consequences
  • Have Cravings (strong need for substance)
  • Feeling a loss of Control

Withdrawal symptoms

When you stop smoking, the nicotine levels in your blood decrease. This can cause withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal can be intense when you first quit, but will decrease with time. Symptoms can last a few days to several weeks. Remember: every person who smokes experiences withdrawal differently.

What are the symptoms?

  • Occasional dizziness
  • Headache
  • Hunger
  • Increased coughing
  • Spaced out
  • Nervousness and shakes
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Lower risk use

Nicotine is addictive. How addicted you become makes it more difficult for you to stop. The nicotine products you use and the way you use them also make a difference. Cigarettes are the most addictive while Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) is the least. Avoid health risks by not using nicotine. If you do decide to use nicotine, we recommend that you try to quit or follow the tips below to help lower the risks to your health.

Cut back on your nicotine use.

Limit the number of times you use any nicotine products. Try to use less than daily. If using daily, try not to use more than once every few hours and try to wait longer in between uses.

Know your cravings.

Cravings happen – but they will pass! Try things like taking a walk, chewing sugar-free gum or doing breathing exercises to manage your cravings. Try different things until you find what works best for you!

If you are vaping, choose e-cigarette cartridges with less nicotine.

Choose products that have lower levels of nicotine. Products with more nicotine increase your risk of addiction.

Avoid products that burn or contain tobacco.

Using any type of commercial tobacco product is harmful. Heated tobacco products (sometimes called heat-not-burn), will lower your exposure to some chemicals (i.e., carbon monoxide). To further reduce your risk, you can switch to products that don’t have tobacco, like Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) or e-cigarettes.  

Avoid “dual use”.

Using both commercial tobacco and e-cigarettes, i.e. "dual use", increases your exposure to harmful chemicals. Vaping may be less harmful than cigarettes, but less harmful doesn't mean free of harm or safe! Most vaping products contain nicotine. If you are going to use nicotine, switch completely from cigarettes to e-cigarettes (with less nicotine) to reduce your exposure and increase your chances of staying cigarette-free.

Avoid using vaping products from illegal or unregulated sources and do not make changes to the product.

If you are vaping, use vaping devices that have been authorized for sale in Canada. Do not buy or use products from illegal or unregulated sources. These products are not guaranteed to product safety controls or oversights. Do not change vaping products or add any substances that are not intended by the manufacturer. This can result in serious lung damage. For electronic devices, follow the manufacturer instructions for use and battery charging.

Use Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) to help you stop using other nicotine products.

NRT products are the safest way to use nicotine. NRT can help you manage your nicotine cravings while you are trying to quit other nicotine products. NRT products include the patch, gum, lozenge, oral mist and inhaler. These are not associated with the negative health effects such as cancers, lung or heart disease, which are caused by cigarettes and other forms of commercial tobacco.

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The law

Under the Smoke-Free Ontario Act, 2017, it is against the law to:

  • Sell or supply tobacco and vapour products to anyone under the age of 19. The fine for supplying a vapour product is $490
  • Use a fake ID to purchase tobacco or vapour products
  • Smoke, vape or hold an activated e-cigarette in enclosed public places and workplaces and in other areas where tobacco smoking is already banned, including public and private schools and public areas within 20 meters of school grounds, playgrounds, or the grounds of community recreational facilities. The fine for vaping in a prohibited area is $305.

For more information visit:

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Where to go for help

If you are thinking about quitting smoking, you are not alone. Most people that use tobacco want to quit and have tried to quit several times. Quitting smoking is a process that takes practice. It takes more than will power; it is about finding what works for you and putting those tools to work to reach your goal of becoming smoke-free.

Remember the 4 D's of quitting:

  • Delay the smoke
  • Drink plenty of water and juice
  • Distract yourself
  • Deep Breaths

If you are concerned about yourself or someone else, seek help from:

Ready to quit high school students, go to:

  • Talk to your school guidance counselor

For more information on resources and services available, visit our webpage for Services in Ottawa to Help People Quit Smoking or our Mental Health, Addictions and Substance Use Health Services and Resources webpage.

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