What is Tobacco?
Tobacco is a plant grown for its leaves, which are dried and fermented before being put in tobacco products. Tobacco contains nicotine, an ingredient that can lead to addiction, which is why so many people who use tobacco find it difficult to quit. There are also many other potentially harmful chemicals found in tobacco or created by burning it.
History of the Tobacco Industry
The history of tobacco begins in the 1400s when it was grown by Native People in southern North America. Starting in the 1600s, commercial tobacco growing began and cigarettes became popular and, by the 1700s, tobacco became the dominant crop in the same area. When the rolling machine was invented in 1880, tobacco use soared, as does the use of slave labor to meet the increased demand. The first research linking tobacco use to cancer was done in Germany in 1930 and it wasn’t until 1964 that the United States Surgeon General warned the public about the health risks of smoking.
In the 1990s, smoking bans on commercial transportation were passed and the Tobacco Industry began to research “smokeless alternatives” like chewing tobacco. Shortly after, tobacco companies also began researching non-combustible cigarettes because smoking rates were declining. In the early 2000s, the first e-cigarette was created in China and the E-Cigarette Industry was mainstream by the end of that decade.
In 2015, youth use of tobacco and nicotine use, and e-cigarettes, was at an all time low. That same year, Juul launched, targeting youth with flavored nicotine salts that delivered a higher level of nicotine. Though the Federal Food & Drug Administration gave a warning to the Tobacco Industry, they allow companies to pursue e-cigarette. In 2018 alone, youth vaping increased by 78% in a single year; the same year that Altria, formerly Philip Morris, bought over $13 billion of Juul products. By 2020, over 2,000 lawsuits were filed against Juul and other e-cigarette companies due to flavors targeting youth and disposable vape products. In 2022, Juul settled in court, paying $500 million to 34 states in the US.
Ways that Tobacco Is Used
Sacred and traditional tobacco is used for ceremonial or medicinal purposes by some American Indian communities. This traditional tobacco is different than the tobacco products produced by for-profit companies for recreational and habitual use.
Smoked in cigarettes, cigars, and pipes.
Applied to gums in the mouth as dipping and chewing tobacco.
Inhaled as snuff.
Nicotine, the drug in tobacco, is also added to liquids used in e-cigarette devices. The levels of nicotine in the liquids is higher than in tobacco leaves, making it more addictive. Tobacco companies regularly target youth, designing their marketing campaigns and product flavors to appeal to them.
Know the Risks
It is possible to build a tolerance to the drug nicotine which is found in tobacco. Recreational and habitual use of tobacco carries several risks, including possible misuse, addiction, and overdose.
Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms
Withdrawal symptoms from nicotine can vary but include:
- Intense crawing for nicotine
- Drowsiness, trouble sleeping
- Feeling tense, restless, or frustrated
- Increased appetite
- Concentration problems
Strategies for Dealing with Nicotine Withdrawal
Nicotine withdrawal can cause irritation, restlessness, anger, and disrupts emotional regulations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer some helpful ways to manage symptoms of withdrawal. Quitting takes time and determination. There are many resources out there to help you on your journey to lead a healthier, smoke-free life. Read their 7 Common Withdrawal Symptoms and What You Can Do About Them article to learn more.
It is possible to ingest toxic levels of nicotine.
Nicotine poisoning tends to occur in two stages. Within the first 15 to 60 minutes following exposure, symptoms are related to the stimulatory effects of nicotine and include:
- excess saliva in the mouth
- stomach ache
- loss of appetite
- eye irritation
- rapid breathing
- increased heart rate
- elevated blood pressure
Following this stage, the body begins to wind down. Nicotine’s depressor effects appear within a few hours. These include:
- low blood pressure
- slow heart rate
- shallow breathing
- pale skin
Though rare, it is possible to overdose on nicotine.
In extreme cases, nicotine overdose symptoms include:
- breathing difficulties
- respiratory failure
Tobacco Cessation & Education Resources
If you, one of your friends, or a family member is in need of treatment for tobacco misuse or addiction, there are options and quit supports available for young people:
Taught by a trained and certified adult in ten, 50-minute sessions. The easy-to-use method helps teens quit by addressing total health in order to develop and maintain positive behaviors. Participants will talk about the importance of physical activity, nutrition, enhancing their sense of self-control, and improving life skills such as stress management, decision making, coping and interpersonal skills. Additionally, they will learn to identify their reasons for smoking or vaping, healthy alternatives to tobacco use and finding people who will support them in their efforts to quit.
This web-based program offers tips and tools to help quit. Its offerings includes a quit smoking text option (Smokefree TXT for Teens), a live chat option (LiveHelp), a phone chat option (1-800-Quit -Now), a quit smoking app (QuitSTART), an Instagram program, and a personalized quit vaping plan.
Talk to experts at the American Lung Association Lung HelpLine and Tobacco QuitLine for free. Call 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872 and press 2), or submit a question or live chat on their website. The Lung HelpLine is staffed with licensed registered nurses, respiratory therapists and certified tobacco treatment specialists. In addition, there are bilingual Spanish speaking staff along with a live language interpretation service for over 250 languages.
Adult Cessation & Educational Resources
The Partnerships For Success community resources compilation that highlights local supports for parents, quitting, community assets, and professional behavioral help services.
Vermont’s resource for quitting smoking and other tobacco. Access support to help you quit, make a quit plan, and get free nicotine replacement. Learn about fun quit tools, managing cravings, and handling slips.
The American Heart Association's compilation of quitlines, online resources, private programs, information about nicotine replacement medications and other prescription drugs to help people quit smoking.
How Local Prevention Works & Makes a Difference
Local prevention works. As more spaces become smoke-free and more cessation support is available, norms begin to shift. Also educating children early and often about the risks of harm from inhaling and handling nicotine is a strong influence to not start.
Smoke-free signage and accompanying policy protect designated public and/or private spaces. Signs can be found at medical facilities, government offices, stores, restaurants and schools. And the risk of harm from second-hand smoke is especially dangerous for children, pets, and people with respiratory issues. Hazardous nicotine residue coats the furniture and floor where pets play and children crawl, and can be accidentally digested.
The Collaborative’s display boards are available for organizations, schools, farmers’ markets, bank lobbies, or for anyone to borrow. The nicotine/vaping education board is paired with the interactive Vape Jeopardy board. Students and adults enjoy playing the quick quiz-style game and then referring to the flip side of the display for more details and resources.
Annual Tobacco Prevention Events
Great American Smoke Out - Every November
Take Down Tobacco National Day of Action - Every March 31st & April 1st
Dates may vary for local events celebrating these national tobacco prevention celebration initiatives.