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Health Concerns

Smoking and Addiction

Addiction occurs when some cannot control their use of a substance. Anyone who uses tobacco is at a risk of becoming addicted to nicotine. Read more about addiction...

Facts

Nicotine is a naturally occurring chemical found in tobacco leaves and is classified as a drug.1 It is a psychoactive substance, meaning that it produces effects in the brain such as mood changes.

Nicotine is the chemical that is primarily responsible for the addictive effects of tobacco products and the main reason why individuals continue using tobacco.2,3,4,5,6

When tobacco is smoked, nicotine can enter the blood stream through the lungs4 and reaches the brain in 10 to 20 seconds.7

Over time, tolerance to nicotine produces physical dependence.

If a smoker stops or reduces smoking, he or she will experience symptoms of withdrawal. These may include anger, anxiety, irritability, difficulty concentrating or sleeping, and restlessness. Symptoms of withdrawal appear within one to two days, peak in the first week and last about 2-4 weeks.8

Nicotine has been shown to be as addictive as heroin or cocaine.9

These health warning messages for cigarettes and little cigars address addiction:

Mother and daughter, both smokers. Mother is visibly sick, but daughter is still smoking beside her
Woman with end stage lung cancer, in a wheelchair and smoking a cigarette
 

What is addiction?

Addiction to a substance, such as a drug, is characterized by:

  • tolerance - the need to use the drug in larger quantities to achieve the same effect;
  • withdrawal - the symptoms experienced if a drug is abruptly discontinued after regular use; and
  • compulsive drug use despite harmful consequences.

The benefits of quitting

Some smokers are able to quit on their first attempt. However, most require multiple attempts before they are successful: in 2010, less than half of all former smokers in Canada said they quit on their first attempt.10

Tobacco addiction can be treated.

There are many cessation options for smokers. Medication or Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) in combination with counselling can improve one's chances of staying smoke-free compared to counselling or medication or NRT alone.11

Quitting is more effective than other measures to avoid tobacco addiction and other smoking-related diseases.

Need help to quit? Call the pan-Canadian quitline toll-free at 1-866-366-3667.

References

1. Canada Food and Drug Regulations [Schedule F]. Available from: Next link will take you to another Web site http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/regulations/C.R.C.%2C_c._870/.

2. Rodgman, A., Perfetti, T.A. The chemical components of tobacco and tobacco smoke. (2009). CRC press, Florida, USA. ISBN 978-1-4200-7883-1.

3. Hecht SS. Research Opportunities Related to Establishing Standards for Tobacco Products Under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. Nicotine & Tobacco Research [http://ntr.oxfordjournals.org/] Commentary [accepted November 25, 2010]. Web Published 2011 January;10.1093/ntr/ntq216. Available from: Next link will take you to another Web site http://ntr.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2011/01/09/ntr.ntq216.full.pdf

4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: The Biology and Behavioral Basis for Smoking-Attributable Disease. A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health; 2010.

5. The Royal Society of Canada. Tobacco, Nicotine, and Addiction. Royal Society, Ottawa, Ontario, August 31, 1989.

6. Royal College of Physicians. Nicotine Addiction in Britain. A report of the tobacco advisory group of the Royal College of Physicians; London, 2000.

7. Le Houezec, J Role of nicotine pharmacokinetics in nicotine addiction and nicotine replacement therapy: A review. International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease 2003; 7(9): 811-819.

8. Hughes, JR Effects of abstinence from tobacco: Valid symptoms and time course. Nicotine and Tobacco Research 2007; 9: 315-327.

9. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking: Nicotine Addiction. A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health; 1988.

10. Health Canada. Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey (2010). Annual Persons Public Use Microdata File.

11. Fiore, MC, Jaen,CR, Baker, TB, Bailey, WC Benowitz, NL et al Treating tobacco use and dependence: 2008 Update. Clinical Practice Guideline. Rockville, MD: US Department of Health and Human Services. Public Health Service. May 2008.