Tobacco is a substance consisting of the dried leaves and stems of the plant Nicotinia tabacum, which contains the drug nicotine. Nicotinia tabacum is native to North America, but now it is grown around the world. Nicotine is a powerful nerve stimulant and is extremely toxic. Two to three drops of pure nicotine, if taken all at once, are enough to kill the average person. Nicotine is classified as the most addictive drug in existence. There are four principal ways to consume tobacco: smoking, chewing, dipping, and snuffing. All four ways produce approximately equal blood nicotine levels in tobacco users.
Smoking is identified as the single most preventable cause of death and disease in the United States. Approximately 50 million Americans smoke. They consume about 540 billion cigarettes each year, and each year approximately 390,000 people die from smoking-related causes. Cigarette smoke contains more than 300 known poisons, including such deadly substances as nicotine, arsenic, cyanide, carbon monoxide, phenol, and formaldehyde. Cigarette smoking is such an enticing habit that few smokers realize they are addicted - until they are hooked.
Chewing loose-leaf tobacco and "Dipping" moist, ground snuff tobacco are two common ways to use tobacco without smoking. There are as many as 12 million chewers and dippers in the United States who consume smokeless tobacco. Many are under the mistaken impression that it is safer than cigarette smoking. Smokeless tobacco contains powerful chemicals, including nicotine, nitrosamines, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and dozens of other carcinogens, that can injure tissues in the mouth and throat. Despite users' erroneous impressions about differing health risks in cigarette sand smokeless tobacco, the health risks presented by smokeless tobacco use are substantial, and cigarettes and smokeless tobacco cannot be compared.
The Surgeon General warning label has concluded, "The oral use of smokeless tobacco represents a significant health risk. It is not a safe substitute for smoking cigarettes. It can cause cancer and a number of no cancerous oral conditions and can lead to nicotine addiction and dependence." Snuffing is a method of tobacco administration rarely employed in the United States today. In snuffing, a dry powdered tobacco is "snorted" and brought into contact with the nasal passageways, and the nicotine is absorbed through the epithelium in the upper nasal passages.
Cigarette smoking is the major single cause of cancer mortality in the United States, according to the Surgeon General. An Estimated 30 percent of cancer deaths in the United States are associated to smoking. These deaths are due mostly to lung cancer, but include cancers of the larynx, oral cavity, esophagus, bladder, kidney, pancreas, stomach and uterine cervix. Many people fail to recognize the traumatic effect that cigarette smoke and nicotine have on the circulatory system. Cardiovascular problems such as high-blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and circulatory deficiencies are common in cigarette smokers, resulting in over 170,000 deaths each year in the United States. Chronic obstructive lung diseases such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis are 10 times more likely to occur in smokers than in non-smokers.
Smoking during pregnancy also poses serious risks. Spontaneous abortion, preterm birth, low birth weights, fetal, and infant deaths all are more likely to occur when a pregnant woman smokes. Use of smokeless tobacco causes serious oral health problems, such as oral cancers, leukoplakia, enamel erosion, and tooth loss, gingivitis, halitosis, and gum ulcers. Because nicotine is present in smokeless tobacco, all the cardiovascular problems associated with cigarette smoking can develop as well.
Environmental tobacco smoke commonly referred to as "second-hand smoke" -- is the nation's No. 1 airborne carcinogen,