The addictive nature of tobacco makes it difficult for users to stop smoking, resulting in the increased likelihood of developing cancer or other diseases — which many times leads to death. Each year, cigarette smoking is responsible for about one in five deaths annually, or about 438,000 people. Despite these staggering figures, tobacco companies continue to produce and ship cigarettes with dangerous levels of nicotine.
Multiple studies have shown that nicotine is the agent in tobacco that leads to addiction. All tobacco products contain substantial amounts of nicotine. Nicotine is absorbed readily from tobacco smoke in the lungs and from smokeless tobacco in the mouth or nose. Levels of nicotine in the blood are similar in magnitude in people using different forms of tobacco. Once in the blood stream, nicotine is rapidly distributed throughout the body. Nicotine is a powerful pharmacologic agent that acts in a variety of ways at different sites in the body. After reaching the bloodstream, nicotine enters the brain, interacts with specific receptors in brain tissue, and initiates metabolic and electrical activity in the brain. In addition, nicotine causes skeletal muscle relaxation and has cardiovascular and endocrine (i.e., hormonal) effects.
Smoking is directly responsible for 90 percent of lung cancer cases and causes between 80 and 90 percent of emphysema and chronic bronchitis cases. Smoking is also a major factor in coronary heart disease and stroke; may be causally related to malignancies in other parts of the body; and has been linked to a variety of other conditions and disorders, including slowed healing of wounds, infertility, and peptic ulcer disease.
Studies have also demonstrated that women who use tobacco during pregnancy are more likely to have adverse birth outcomes, including low birth weight babies. Low birth weight is a leading cause of death among infants. Studies also indicate that nonsmokers are adversely affected by environmental tobacco smoke. Researchers have identified more than 4,800 chemical compounds in tobacco smoke; of these, at least 69 of these chemicals cause cancer. Each year, secondhand smoke kills an estimated 26,100 to 73,000 nonsmoking Americans and causes approximately 300,000 cases of lower respiratory tract infections in children.
Particularly alarming is the fact that each day in the United States, approximately 4,000 young people between the ages of 12 and 17 years initiate cigarette smoking, and an estimated 1,140 young people become daily cigarette smokers. The decision to use tobacco is nearly always made in the teen years, and about one-half of young people usually continue to use tobacco products as adults.