Skip to Local Navigation
Skip to Content
California State University, Long Beach
Health Resource Center, Student Health Services
Print this pageAdd this page to your favoritesSelect a small fontSelect a medium fontSelect a large font


Because tobacco is legal and heavily advertised, people often don't take it seriously as a drug.

Nicotine is the drug in tobacco that makes it addictive and habit forming. Nicotine, heroin, and cocaine have similar effects on the brain. Cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, snuff, chewing tobacco – even nicotine gum and patches – all contain nicotine. Nicotine is a poison and it is harmful to your body.

What is a Smoker?  

If you are to consider just the outward physical effects of smoking this is typically what you would see. The overall effects on appearance include stains on teeth and don't forget the fingers. When someone smokes, particularly just after they had a cigarette, it is easy to identify the smokers by the odors in the hair and clothing. Sometimes burns in clothing occur during smoking, which can cause a fire. This is common enough that all of us can relate our own experiences to similar events. It is well known that smoking does diminish or extinguish your sense of smell and taste but it is not well known that smoking can cause premature wrinkles and gray hair.

Smokeless Tobacco

ChewMany of us link tobacco use with smoking, but tobacco can be consumed in smokeless form as well. Long before people smoked cigarettes, they chewed, dipped and spit tobacco. Today smokeless tobacco comes in two forms-- chewing tobacco and snuff. Chewing tobacco may be shredded, pressed into cakes, or twisted into strands. Snuff comes in loose leaf form or pouches that look like tea bags. Smokeless tobacco is packaged for easy use. Addicted users can keep a "quid" of snuff or chewing tobacco in their mouths around the clock. Smokeless tobacco still poses some risks, such as the risk of oral cancer, including cancer of the tongue and mouth, the cardiovascular risks of higher blood pressure and vascular disease. Smokeless users tend to have higher levels of nicotine than those found in smokers. In the pure form, tobacco has a bitter taste. To enhance the flavor of their product, makers of smokeless tobacco added sugar and salt . Also in the mix are cancer causing nitrosamines and abrasives. Considering all these factors, the Surgeon General reported in 1986 that there is "no safe use" of smokeless tobacco. Therefore it can be concluded that choosing between smokeless tobacco and smoking cigarettes is like choosing between a rock and a hard place. There is no alternative but to quit.

What's in a Puff? 

SmokingWhen burning cigarettes, solid particles, gases, and liquids are emitted from the tobacco. Solid particles are the only visible particles; however, you can only 5-8% of it. There are 4000 different chemical compounds in cigarettes, 50 are known carcinogens, and the others are suspected mutagens. (Mutagens are capable of causing permanent, often harmful changes in genetic material of living cells.) Where do the chemicals come from? About half the compounds are found naturally in the green tobacco leaf and half are created by the chemical reaction when the tobacco is burned. Some chemicals are introduced during the curing process; other chemicals are added by manufacturers to impart a distinctive flavor or quality to their product. 

What's the Attraction?

Cigarette ButtsTobacco industry devotes $4 billion to advertising and promoting cigarettes every year. The tobacco industry increasingly relies on promotional activities, including sponsorship of sports events and public entertainment, outdoor billboards, point of purchase displays and recently the distribution of specialty items that appeal to youth. Cigarette advertisements replace words with images portraying the attractiveness and function of smoking by displaying images of youthful activities, independence, healthfulness, and adventure seeking.

Most smokers try their first cigarette before the age of 18. The young people who report that smoking serves a positive function or is potentially useful are at increased risk for smoking. The functions served are bonding with peers, being independent and mature, and having a positive social image. Did you know that the following famous people died from smoking:

  • Louis Armstrong (Age 71)
  • Lucille Ball (Age 77)
  • Humphrey Bogart (Age 57)
  • Nat "King" Cole (Age 45)
  • Sammy Davis, Jr. (Age 64)
  • Walt Disney (Age 65)
  • Michael Landon (Age 54)
  • Jesse Owens (Age 67)

Peer influences seem to be particularly potent in the early stages of tobacco use. The peer group may subsequently provide expectations, reinforcement, and cues for experimentation. Parental tobacco use does not appear to be as compelling a risk factor as peer use. Certainly socio-demographic, environmental, behavioral, and personal factors can encourage the onset of tobacco use, particularly among adolescents. The reason for smoking is that nicotine is a psychoactive drug. Nicotine has actions similar to cocaine and heroin in the same area of the brain. Depending on how much you smoke, nicotine can act as either a stimulant or sedative. Studies show that nicotine increases the activity of dopamine, a chemical in the brain that elicits pleasurable sensations. The first cigarette of the day is particularly rewarding, however throughout the day your nerves become desensitized to nicotine, therefore it becomes less pleasurable so you smoke more to get the reward. A tolerance to these effects develops very quickly and requires increasingly higher levels of nicotine. 

Reasons for Relapse (Myth or Fact)  

The first cigarette! The single most important research findings are those who cheat and have a cigarette during the initial first two weeks of withdrawal, even with the patch, nearly guarantees smoking again in six months.  Quitting smoking is a big let down without the nicotine rewards. A specific regiment for quitting smoking uses a unique antidepressant called Bupropion (Zyban), which appears to have a positive effect on dopamine, serotonin, and noepinephrine, which are chemicals in the brain related to nicotine addiction. The drug is taken twice a day for 5 days, with or without the patch. There are side effects such as gastrointestinal, headache, insomnia, irritation in rare cases, seizures have occurred usually in people who exceeded the recommended dose or already have risk factors for seizure.  It is true that weight gain may occur in people who quit smoking. Research has found that this is usually a temporary situation and people who had weight gain usually lost it after the first year quitting. If weight gain is the reason for not quitting, start a diet program prior to quitting smoking and incorporate it into you quitting smoking strategy. When you quit you may have temporary effects both physical and emotional. Physically: You may feel tingly, intestinal disorders, headache or sweating. Emotionally and mentally: Insomnia, vagueness, mental confusion and irritability may be occurring.

Health Risks Associated with Smoking Cigarettes

  • Tobacco causes cancer, emphysema and heart disease, which contribute to the deaths of 400,000 Americans each year.
  • Tobacco is known to cause cancer of the mouth, larynx, pharynx, esophagus, lungs, pancreas, cervix, uterus and bladder.
  • Women who smoke and are taking the birth control pill are at an increased risk for stroke.
  • Women who smoke have more trouble getting pregnant. Note: It is not a sure fire method of birth control.
  • Smoking during pregnancy increases the risk for stillbirth and infant mortality by 33% and doubles a child's risk of attention deficit disorder.
  • Smoking may contribute to impotency in men.
  • Children of smokers are more likely to pick it up.
  • Smoking can give you heartburn and ulcers.
  • Smoking also contributes to blindness by macular deteriorations.
  • Smoking also contributes to hardening of the arteries and to atherosclerosis. Smoking reduces the proportion of HDL (good) cholesterol to LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood and increases the tendency for blood to clot inside blood vessels and obstruct blood flow. What does that mean to you? Stroke, heart attack and pulmonary embolism. Atherosclerosis is a major contributing factor in stroke. People who smoke a pack a day have 2.5 times the risk of stroke as nonsmokers.
  • Shortness of breath, coughing spells, phlegm production, wheezing and diminished over all physical health are common.
  • Smoking increases the frequency of colds and flu.
  • Second-hand smoke even at low exposures appears to have disproportionately greater effects in non-smokers. Non-smokers are more sensitive to the ill effects of the smoke because they have not adapted to chronic exposures from cigarette smoke.

Staying Smokeless

  1. Your risk of heart disease will drop dramatically within the first two years after kicking the habit. The good news is the day after you stop smoking your heart starts to recover.
  2. Write a letter to a loved one stating the reasons for quitting smoking. This is especially powerful, because it makes you feel selfish and foolish for continuing the habit.
  3. Set a day to quit that is at the least stressful time in your schedule so that you can have the first 3 or 4 days with minimized stress.
  4. Set aside a jar and pay yourself everyday the equal dollar amount you would have spent on cigarettes.
  5. It is absolutely necessary to avoid or even leave situations that trigger you to light up.  You need to look at these before hand and plan to reschedule your daily routine. Obviously if alcohol or coffee regularly coincided with lighting up, give it up for two weeks until your over the first obstacle on your road to better health.
  6. Deciding to tough it out requires you to get with a program. This will require you to further change your routine. If you typically get up in the morning and have a smoke and watch the news then you need to develop a new routine that perhaps has you eating breakfast and reading the paper or even better yet, reading your textbook. Yuck! If you are concerned with weight gain this is an excellent opportunity to start your exercise program.
  7. Now with the availability of over the counter nicotine replacement utilizing the patch or gum you can help yourself by reducing the powerful cravings. Remember: This alone is not enough.
  8. There are programs out there to help you quit smoking. You may have heard of other alternative methods to quit. No studies have shown that they actually help smokers kick the habit. Still, many people have tried these and other methods with success.

    With acupuncture, fine needles are inserted in and round your ear lobes and the acupuncture technician may tape a button on your ear lobe that you are advised to press or massage when the urge to smoke overcomes you.  Hypnosis for smoking cessation may work by a process called suggestion. When you visit a hypnosis specialist, you'll be put under a trance during which the hypnotist will suggest that you do not enjoy smoking, that cigarettes taste bad, or a host of other negative ideas regarding smoking.

Once You QUIT

  1. Go to the dentist and have your teeth cleaned. Be extreme to the point where you brush you teeth every time you eat and use mouthwash. Get to the point where anything other than fresh, smokeless taste just tastes bad.
  2. Keep your fingers busy. Part of the smoking ritual is having that little cancer stick burning between your fingers. Find something else to fiddle with like a ballpoint pen. The clicking types a particularly gratifying for the nervous types.
  3. Smoking is orally gratifying so try chewing on a plastic straw if you feel the need to light up. Toothpicks work, too.
  4. Go where smoking is not permitted.
  5.  Hang with non-smokers at least until you have had the chance to put this all behind you.

References and Resources

On Campus:
California State University, Long Beach
Student Health Center
Health Resource Center, Room 268
Phone: (562) 985-4609
Long Beach:
Nicotine Anonymous
All Saints Episcopal Christ
346 Termino Street
Long Beach, CA 90803
(562) 438-3650
Services: Support group for adults
Weekly meetings on Mondays at 6:00 p.m.
United Church of Christ
2501 Palo Verde Avenue, Room #4
Long Beach, CA 90815
(562) 424-3717
Services: Support group for adults
Weekly meetings on Wednesdays at 6:00 p.m.
Universal Care Clinic
17660 Lakewood Blvd.
Bellflower, CA 90806
(800) 635-6668, extension 5055
Services: Four-week smoking cessation program
Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services

Tobacco Education Program
(562) 570-8508
Services: Cessation information packet available with self-help tips and other resources for cessation services. (No charge for the information.)

The WEB:

American Cancer Society: Tobacco and Lung Cancer
American Heart Association: How Can I Quit Smoking?
American Council on Science and Health (ACSH): Tobacco