Last revised: August 30, 2023

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).
  • ‘Chewed’ commercial tobacco products include chewing tobacco or wet snuff which is held inside the lip or cheek.
  • Cigarettes are the most common commercial tobacco product, which uses finely cut tobacco leaves that are rolled in thin paper.

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 (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 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
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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 concerned about yourself or someone else, seek help from:

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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