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Nicotine...Ally or Foe?

Here are a few simple things you may not know about smoking, nicotine and cancer.

Does  Nicotine Cause Cancer?

Cigarettes cause cancer. Tobacco contains nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive drug. But it is NOT the nicotine in cigarette smoke that causes cancer.  Nicotine may keep you smoking, but it is the other bad chemicals in cigarettes that make smoking so dangerous.

If nicotine does not cause cancer, what does?

Smoke Cigarettes HarmsMost of the dangerous chemicals in tobacco smoke are formed through the many chemical reactions that occur as the cigarette burns. Burning organic material such as tobacco leaves produces polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. And sugars that are added to cigarettes produce formaldehyde when burned.Tobacco smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals. At least 400 are poisonous and more than 60 are cancer-causing.  Examples of harmful chemicals in cigarette are tar, carbon monoxide, arsenic, cadmium, ammonia, hydrogen cyanide, DDT, acetone, formaldehyde, naphthalene, polonium-210 and vinyl chloride. Cigarette smoke is a cocktail of poisonous chemicals.When you inhale smoke, these chemicals enter your lungs and spread around the rest of your body. Scientists have shown that these chemicals can damage DNA and change important genes. This causes cancer by making your cells grow and multiply out of control.

What Is Nicotine?

Nicotine PlantNicotine is an naturally occurring liquid alkaloid  (C10H14N2) found in the nightshade family of plants (Solanaceae), predominantly in tobacco, and in lower quantities in tomato, potato, eggplant (aubergine), and green pepper. Nicotine alkaloids are also found in the leaves of the coca plant. An alkaloid is an organic compound made out of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and sometimes oxygen. These chemicals have potent effects on the human body. For example, many people regularly enjoy the stimulating effects of another alkaloid, caffeine, as they quaff a cup or two of coffee in the morning.

Nicotine normally makes up about 5 percent of a tobacco plant, by weight. The most common (and the most expedient way) to get nicotine and other drugs into your bloodstream is through inhalation -- by smoking it.

How Nicotine Works?

What is it about tobacco that makes people so compelled to use it despite all of the admonitions? Smoking or chewing tobacco makes people feel good, even mildly euphoric. While there are thousands of chemicals in the tobacco plant (not to mention those added by cigarette manufacturers), one, nicotine, produces all the good feelings that draw people back for another cigarette or plug of tobacco.

Human BrainWhen a cigarette is smoked, nicotine-rich blood passes from the lungs to the brain within seven seconds and immediately stimulates the release of many chemical messengers including acetylcholine, norepinephrine, epinephrine, vasopressin, arginine, dopamine, and beta-endorphin. This results in enhanced pleasure, decreased anxiety, and a state of alert relaxation. Nicotine enhances concentration, learning, and memory due to the increase of acetylcholine. It also enhances alertness due to the increases of acetylcholine and norepinephrine. Arousal is increased by the increase of norepinephrine. Pain is reduced by the increases of acetylcholine and beta-endorphin. Anxiety is reduced by the increase of beta-endorphin. Subjectively, users report feelings of relaxation, calmness, and alertness. It is even reported to produce a mildly euphoric state. By reducing the appetite and raising the metabolism, some smokers may lose weight as a consequence. It also allows the mouth to be stimulated without food and the taste of tobacco smoke may curb the appetite.The effects of nicotine last from five minutes to two hours. Most cigarettes (in the smoke inhaled) contain 0.1 to 2.8 milligrams of nicotine. Research suggests that when smokers wish to achieve a stimulating effect, they take short quick puffs, which produces a low level of blood nicotine. This stimulates nerve transmission. When they wish to relax, they take deep puffs, which produce a high level of blood nicotine, which depresses the passage of nerve impulses, producing a mild sedative effect. At low doses, Nicotine potently enhances the actions of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain causing a drug effect typical of pyschostimulants. At higher doses nicotine enhances the effect of serotonin and opiate activity, producing a calming, pain killing effect. Nicotine is unique in comparison to most drugs, as its profile changes from stimulant to sedative/pain killer in increasing dosages and use.

So why do we smoke?

Nicotine SlaveNicotine is a drug and causes addiction in much the same way as heroin or cocaine. It is just as addictive as these ‘harder' drugs. This also means that smokers start to make a mental link between the act of smoking and feeling good. Because of this, smokers can also become addicted to abstract things like the taste of cigarettes or the feeling of smoking, as well as the nicotine itself. When the blood level of nicotine falls, smokers usually develop withdrawal symptoms such as restlessness, increased appetite, inability to concentrate, irritability, dizziness, constipation, nicotine craving, or just feeling awful. Those symptoms begin within a few hours after having the last cigarette. If they are not relieved by the next cigarette, withdrawal symptoms get worse. If they do not smoke any more cigarettes, the withdrawal symptoms peak after about 24 hours, and then gradually ease over about 2-4 weeks.


Is There A Safe Way To Get Nicotine?

AshtrayYou can get clean nicotine from Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products: nicotine patch, gum, Nasal spray, lozenge, or inhaler (electronic cigarette); these products do not have tar and all the other ingredients in smoked tobacco. They appear to be not as addictive or as pleasurable, and perhaps have fewer side effects.

What Is Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT)?

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) is the use of various forms of nicotine delivery methods intended to replace nicotine obtained from smoking or other tobacco usage. These products are intended for use in smoking cessation efforts to help deal with withdrawal symptoms and cravings caused by the loss of nicotine from cigarettes. Several forms of NRT have been marketed, including the nicotine patch, inhaler, e-cigarettes, nasal spray, gum and lozenge. NRT is thought to be useful and beneficial for tobacco users who want to quit their addiction and is for most people perfectly safe. Regular cigarettes on the other hand cause the early deaths of about 5 million people each year. These people are not killed by the nicotine in the cigarette, but by other constituents of tobacco smoke such as Carbon Monoxide and tars. It is the nicotine that keeps the smoker addicted. Cigarettes can be viewed as a "dirty" and dangerous method of delivering nicotine, while NRT is a "clean" and safe method.

NRT delivers nicotine to the smoker's brain in a much slower way than cigarettes do. It helps to damp down the urges to smoke that most smokers have in the early days and weeks after quitting, rather than remove them totally. It gives the smoker the chance to break smoking cues in their daily lives, and might provide a more comfortable exit from the smoking habit.

A small number of people who use NRT, especially E-Cigarettes (inhalers) and Nicotine Gum, will go on to use it on a longer term basis. These are usually highly nicotine dependent smokers who would not have been able to quit without the help of such medication. There is currently no evidence that such long term usage is harmful to health, especially when compared to smoking.

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