FAQs and Facts

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Q: Why not ban tobacco products?

A: Unfortunately, tobacco use was widely established before its tragic health consequences became known. The addictive nature of tobacco is well documented, with some studies revealing that it can be harder to quit tobacco than it is to quit heroin or cocaine. Today, tobacco is consumed by more than five million Canadians, many of whom are addicted. A complete ban on tobacco products, therefore, would be extremely difficult to introduce and enforce.

Q: Are cigars a safer alternative to cigarettes ?

A: Cigars, just like cigarettes, contain nicotine and nicotine is highly addictive. Cigar smoke, like cigarette smoke, contains toxic chemicals including carbon monoxide, benzene, formaldehyde and hydrogen cyanide, that are created when tobacco burns. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, regular cigar smoking causes cancer of the lung, oral cavity, larynx, esophagus and probably cancer of the pancreas. Therefore, when a cigar is smoked, it can be expected to have many of the harmful effects as smoking cigarettes does.

Q: Why does cigarette smoking cause your teeth and fingers to get yellow?

A: It is the nicotine in cigarettes that stains the fingers and teeth yellow. Nicotine is absorbed through the skin and the mucosal lining of the mouth and nose. It is also absorbed when you inhale smoke into your lungs.

Q: How many different toxic compounds are in tobacco smoke?

A: There are more than 4,000 chemicals generally found in tobacco smoke. More than 50 of these are known to cause cancer. Health Canada requires manufacturers to test and report on 43 chemicals found in smoke, including the six now listed on packages.

Most of the chemicals - including carbon monoxide, benzene, formaldehyde and hydrogen cyanide - are formed when tobacco burns. Others, such as lead, tobacco-specific nitrosamines and nicotine, are found naturally in the tobacco and are simply released as the tobacco burns.

Q: Why is smoking addictive?

A: Cigarette smoking produces a rapid distribution of nicotine to the brain. Nicotine is absorbed both through the skin lining of the mouth and nose and by inhaling smoke into the lungs. Drug levels peak within 10 seconds of inhalation. The acute effects of nicotine dissipate in a few minutes, making it necessary to smoke frequently throughout the day to maintain the drug's pleasurable effects and prevent withdrawal. A typical smoker will take 10 puffs on a cigarette over the 5-minute period that a cigarette is lit. Therefore, a person who smokes about 1-1/2 packs (30 cigarettes) a day, gets 300 "hits" of nicotine to the brain each day. These factors contribute considerably to nicotine's highly addictive nature.

Cigar and pipe smokers, on the other hand, typically do not inhale smoke, so nicotine is absorbed more slowly through the mucosal membranes of their mouths. The nicotine in smokeless tobacco is absorbed the same way.

Recent research details how nicotine activates a key brain chemical, dopamine, involved in mediating the desire to consume drugs. Research has also shown that nicotine increases the levels of dopamine in key parts of the brain that regulate feelings of pleasure.

Scientific research is also beginning to show that nicotine may not be the only psychoactive ingredient in tobacco. Using advanced neuroimaging technology, scientists can see the dramatic effect of cigarette smoking on the brain. Scientists are finding smokers have a marked decrease in the levels of monoamineoxidase (MAO), an important enzyme that is responsible for breaking down dopamine. This decrease in the level of MAO then results in higher dopamine levels. Therefore, people may continue to smoke in order to sustain high dopamine levels in their bodies.

Q: How can I order a Health Canada publication/resource ?

A: To obtain a free copy of a tobacco resource from Health Canada , please contact the Publications Unit at 1-866-225-0709 (toll-free). Please allow a minimum of 2-3 weeks for delivery.

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