BACK TO DRUG FACTS PRINT

Last updated : March 30, 2017

What is tobacco?

Products such as cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco, and wet and dry snuff contain dried leaves from the tobacco plant.1

The main chemical in tobacco is nicotine, which is a stimulant drug that speeds up the messages travelling between the brain and body. It may be more addictive than heroin. Tar and carbon monoxide (a toxic gas) are also released when tobacco is burned, such as when it’s smoked.2

Electronic cigarettes (also known as E cigarettes) don’t contain dried tobacco leaves, but they may still contain nicotine.

Street names

Ciggies, darts, durries, rollies, smokes, fags, butts, cancer sticks

How is tobacco used?

Tobacco is usually smoked in cigarettes. It is also smoked in cigars and pipes.

Effects of tobacco

There is no safe level of drug use. Use of any drug always carries some risk. It’s important to be careful when taking any type of drug.

Tobacco affects everyone differently, based on:

  • Size, weight and health
  • Whether the person is used to taking it
  • Whether other drugs are taken around the same time
  • The amount taken
  • The strength of the tobacco and how much is contained in the product

The following effects may be experienced:

  • Feeling more alert, happy and relaxed
  • Coughing
  • Dizziness, headaches
  • Fast heart beat
  • Bad breath
  • Tingling and numbness in fingers and toes
  • Reduced appetite, stomach cramps and vomiting3

If a large amount of tobacco is taken the following effects may also be experienced:

  • Confusion
  • Feeling faint
  • Seizures
  • Fast breathing
  • Respiratory arrest (stop breathing) and death4

Some people believe that smoking ‘light’ or ‘low tar’ cigarettes is less harmful than regular cigarettes. However, there is little difference between the amount of chemicals inhaled by people who smoke ‘light’ cigarettes and those who smoke regular ones.5

Long-term effects

Regular use of tobacco may eventually cause:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing fits, asthma and lung diseases
  • Regular colds or flu
  • Loss of taste and smell
  • Yellow, rotting teeth
  • Yellow finger tips
  • Early wrinkles
  • Back pain
  • Slower-healing wounds
  • Mood swings
  • Eye disease and hearing loss
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Difficulty having children (males and females)
  • Irregular periods and early menopause (females)
  • Difficulty getting an erection (males)
  • Cancer (in many areas of the body)
  • Stroke and brain damage
  • Heart attack and disease
  • Needing to use more to get the same effect
  • Dependence on tobacco
  • Financial, work and social problems4

Passive smoking

Passive smoking is when someone breathes in smoke from other people smoking. Passive smoking can cause many of the health problems listed above, so it’s important not to smoke near other people, particularly babies, children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and people with chronic respiratory conditions.6

Using tobacco with other drugs

The effects of using tobacco with other drugs – including over-the-counter or prescribed medications – can be unpredictable and dangerous, and could cause:

  • Tobacco + benzodiazepines: reduced effectiveness of benzodiazepines.
  • Tobacco + contraceptive pill: increased risk of blood clots forming.7

It’s important to check with a medical professional about whether nicotine might affect any medications you are taking.

Withdrawal

Giving up tobacco after using it for a long time is challenging because the body has to get used to functioning without it. Withdrawal symptoms usually start within 2–3 hours after you last use tobacco. The symptoms may last from a few days to a few weeks. These symptoms can include:

  • Cravings for a cigarette
  • Irritability, anxiety and depression
  • Restless sleep
  • Eating more and putting on weight
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Headaches
  • Coughing and sore throat
  • Aches and pains
  • Upset stomach and bowels8

You may still crave a cigarette for months and years after giving up. It’s important to ask for help if you need it. Call Quitline on 13 QUIT (13 7848).

Tobacco and the law

Federal and state laws make it an offence to sell or supply tobacco products to people under 18 years of age. It is also illegal for anyone under 18 years to purchase tobacco products.

There are laws that regulate and restrict how tobacco products are advertised, promoted and packaged.

There are also laws and regulations that restrict smoking in public areas such as shopping centres, cafes and workplaces. Most states and territories have laws that ban smoking in cars with children.

Tobacco statistics

National

  • 39.8% of Australians aged 14 years and over have used tobacco.9
  • More males than females are daily smokers across all age groups.9
  • People who smoke aged 12 years and over smoked on average 95.9 cigarettes per week.9
  • Around 1 in 8 (12.8%) Australians aged 14 years and over smoke daily.9
  • In 2012, 12.5% of all mothers reported that they had smoked while pregnant. This is down from 13.2% in 2011 and 13.5% in 2010.10
  • Teenage mothers accounted for 10.2% of all mothers who reported smoking during pregnancy. But of all teenage mothers, 34.9% reported smoking.10

Young people

  • Young Australians (aged 14–24) have their first full cigarette at 15.9 years on average.9
  • 77% of 12–17 year olds have not smoked. The proportion of 12–17 year olds who have never smoked decreases in the older age groups, but by age 17 more than half have still never smoked.11
  • Around 4% of all 12-17 year olds have smoked more than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime, which peaks at 9% among 17 year olds.11
References
  1. American Cancer Society. (2013). Other forms of tobacco favoured by young people.
  2. Julien, R., Advokat, C., & Comaty, J. (eds.). (2011). A primer of drug action (12th ed.). New York: Worth Publishing.
  3.  Quit Victoria. (2014). Health risks of smoking.
  4. Brands, B., Sproule, B., & Marshman, J. (Eds.). (1998). Drugs & drug abuse (3rd ed.). Ontario: Addiction Research Foundation.
  5. Quit Victoria. (2005). ‘Light’ or ‘low tar’ cigarettes.
  6. Cancer Council Victoria. (2005). Exposure to and perceptions of the dangers and illnesses of passive smoking among Victorians: 2004.
  7. Lucas, C. & Martin, J. (2013). Smoking and drug interactions.
  8. Quit Victoria. (2014). What are withdrawal symptoms?
  9. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2014). National Drug Strategy Household Survey detailed report 2013. Canberra: AIHW.
  10. Hilder, L., Zhichao, Z., Parker, M., & Chambers, G.M. (2014) Australia’s mothers and babies 2012. Perinatal statistics series, no. 20. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
  11. White, V., & Bariola, E. (2012). Australian secondary school students’ use of tobacco, alcohol, and over-the-counter and illicit substances in 2011. Melbourne: The Cancer Council, Victoria

 


Effects

bad breath, coughing, dizziness, faintness, fast heart rate, feeling alert, feeling happy, feeling relaxed, headache, reduced appetite, stomach cramps, tingling and numbness in fingers and toes, vomiting.

AKA

butts, cancer sticks, ciggies, darts, durries, fags, rollies, smokes.