Nicotine (Tobacco Addiction and Abuse)

What Is Tobacco Addiction?

When people are addicted, they have a compulsive need to seek out and use a substance, even when they understand the harm it can cause. Tobacco products -- cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and smokeless tobacco -- can all be addictive. Everyone knows that smoking is bad for you, and most people that do it want to quit. In fact, nearly 35 million people make a serious attempt to quit each year. Unfortunately, most who try to quit on their own relapse -- often within a week.

Is Nicotine Addictive?

Yes. It is actually the nicotine in tobacco that is addictive. Each cigarette contains about 10 milligrams of nicotine. Because the smoker inhales only some of the smoke from a cigarette, and not all of each puff is absorbed in the lungs, a smoker gets about 1 to 2 milligrams of the drug from each cigarette. Although that may not seem like much, it is enough to make someone addicted.

Is Nicotine the Only Harmful Part of Tobacco?

No. Nicotine is only one of more than 4,000 chemicals, many of which are poisonous, found in the smoke from tobacco products. Smokeless tobacco products also contain many toxins, as well as high levels of nicotine. Many of these other ingredients are things we would never consider putting in our bodies, like tar, carbon monoxide, acetaldehyde, and nitrosamines. Tar causes lung cancer, emphysema, and bronchial diseases. Carbon monoxide causes heart problems, which is one reason why smokers are at high risk for heart disease.

Patient Comments

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Nicotine - Experience Question: Please describe your experience with tobacco use.
Nicotine Addictive - Treatment Question: What was the treatment for your tobacco addiction?
Nicotine - Common Street Names Question: Names and terms change. Share some of the names you've heard for cigarettes or chewing tobacco.
Nicotine - Teen Use Question: Since there have been cigarettes, teens have smoked. If you are under 20, do you smoke? If so, why?
Nicotine - Effects Question: Describe how it feels to smoke and why you do/did it.
Nicotine - Long-Term Effects Question: If you smoked cigarettes or chewed tobacco, what have been the long-term adverse effects?
Nicotine - Pregnancy Question: Did you or your mother smoke while pregnant? What have been the effects or consequences?
Nicotine - Quitting Question: Please share tips and suggestions for how you quit smoking cigarettes or chewing tobacco.

Factors Associated With Youth Tobacco Use

Some factors associated with youth tobacco use include the following:

  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Use and approval of tobacco use by peers or siblings
  • Exposure to smoking in movies
  • Lack of skills to resist influences to tobacco use
  • Smoking by parents or guardians and/or lack of parental support or involvement
  • Accessibility, availability, and price of tobacco products
  • A perception that tobacco use is the norm
  • Low levels of academic achievement
  • Low self-image or self-esteem
  • Exposure to tobacco advertising
  • Aggressive behavior (e.g., fighting, carrying weapons)

Tobacco use during adolescence is associated with the following health risk behaviors:

  • High-risk sexual behavior
  • Use of alcohol
  • Use of other drugs


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention