Health Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Common menu bar links

Health Concerns

Nicotine

Nicotine is the drug responsible for making cigarettes so addictive. It makes your body crave more cigarettes and that means inhaling all those gross chemicals. Studies have shown that the nicotine habit can be as hard to break as heroin or cocaine addiction. Within seven seconds of inhaling on a cigarette, the nicotine reaches your brain, stimulating the nervous system, increasing heart rate, raising blood pressure and constricting small blood vessels under the skin.

On this page:

In Your Body

Health effects of smoking

What are the effects on individual smokers?

Unless they quit, up to half of all smokers will die from their smoking, most of them before their 70th birthday and only after years of suffering a reduced quality of life.

The average smoker will die about 8 years earlier than a similar non-smoker. Life expectancy improves after a smoker quits.

There is strong scientific evidence that smoking is related to more than two dozen diseases and conditions. Fortunately, most of these start to reverse after a smoker quits smoking. Sometimes the benefits of quitting begin in a matter of hours.

All smokers are at extra risk for

Coronary heart disease (e.g., heart attacks)
Peripheral vascular disease (circulatory problems)
Aortic aneurysm
High blood pressure
High cholesterol (LDL)
Lung cancer
Cancer of the mouth, throat and voice box
Cancer of the pancreas
Cancer of the kidney, and urinary bladder
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
Chronic bronchitis
Emphysema
Pneumonia
Influenza (the "flu")
The common cold
Peptic ulcers
Chronic bowel disease (Crohn's Disease)
Tooth decay (cavities)
Gum disease
Osteoporosis
Sleep problems (falling asleep inappropriately and/or frequent waking)
Cataracts
Thyroid disease (Grave's Disease)

Female smokers are at an extra risk for

Cancer of the cervix (womb)
Menstrual problems
Fertility problems
Spontaneous abortion (miscarriage)

Male smokers have an extra risk of

Erectile dysfunction (impotence)
Fertility problems (problems with sperm)

There is some scientific evidence that smoking may also be related to cancer of the large intestine and leukemia.In addition to various diseases, smoking also causes the skin to wrinkle and create the appearance of premature aging. Smoking also reduces the sense of smell and taste.

How harmful are cigars and pipes?

Cigar and pipe smokers experience the same types of health problems as cigarette smokers.

What about other types of tobacco?

a pipe and snuff

Smoking isn't the only type of tobacco that causes health problems. Smokeless tobacco, including chewing tobacco and snuff, contain many of the same harmful and addictive substances as cigarettes, pipes and cigars. Smokeless tobacco is a major cause of cancer of the mouth and throat. It can also cause serious dental health problems including recession of the gums, tooth loss and discolouration of the teeth and gums.

What about non-smokers exposure to second-hand smoke?

Consult our section on second-hand smoke to learn more about the effects of tobacco on non-smokers.

Related Resources