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Nicotine is only one of the thousands of chemicals in tobacco, but it
is the major component that acts on the brain. The lungs readily absorb
nicotine from the smoke of cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. The tissues of the mouth can also
absorb nicotine when a person smokes cigars or pipes or chews tobacco.
Nicotine reaches the brain in seconds and has a direct effect on
the body for up to 30 minutes. When a person uses tobacco regularly, the levels
of nicotine accumulate in the body during the day and persist overnight,
exposing the person to the effects of nicotine for 24 hours.
In the body, nicotine acts as both a
central nervous system stimulant and sedative. The
person immediately feels the stimulant effect and pleasurable sensation. It
increases alertness, relaxes muscles, improves memory and attention, and
decreases irritability. The stimulant effect causes a sudden increase in blood
pressure, breathing rate, and heart rate. The central nervous system
stimulation is followed by depression and fatigue, causing the person to want
Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances. Some teens show
early signs of addiction within days to weeks after starting to smoke. Repeated
tobacco use causes a need for increasingly large amounts of nicotine to feel
the same effect (tolerance). And repeated use causes
withdrawal symptoms if the person tries to quit.
Smoking affects a person's appearance by causing bad breath, yellow
teeth and fingernails, and wrinkles. Tobacco also leads to serious health
Other Works ConsultedAmerican Cancer Society (2010). Child and teen tobacco use. Available online: http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/CancerCauses/TobaccoCancer/ChildandTeenTobaccoUse/index.
July 20, 2012
Patrice Burgess, MD - Family Medicine & Peter Monti, PhD - Alcohol and Addiction
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