Nicotine-a harmful substance in Tobacco: Say no to it…

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By Dr. Judith Lobo, Muscat
Bellevision Media Network

Muscat, 03 october 2010: For centuries, people have chewed and smoked tobacco, which comes from the plant nicotiana tabacum. The reason tobacco is used by so many people is because it contains a powerful drug known as nicotine.



When tobacco is smoked, nicotine is absorbed by the lungs and quickly moved into the bloodstream, where it is circulated throughout the brain. All of this happens very rapidly. In fact, nicotine reaches the brain within eight seconds after someone inhales tobacco smoke. Nicotine can also enter the bloodstream through the mucous membranes that line the mouth, if tobacco is chewed or nose, if snuff is used, and even through the skin.


Nicotine affects the entire body. Nicotine acts directly on the heart to change heart rate and blood pressure. It also acts on the nerves that control respiration to change breathing patterns. In high concentrations, nicotine is deadly, in fact one drop of purified nicotine on the tongue may kill a person. It is so lethal that it has been used as a pesticide for centuries


How does nicotine act in the brain?:

The brain is made up of billions of nerve cells. They communicate by releasing chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. Each neurotransmitter is like a key that fits into a special ‘lock’ called a receptor, located on the surface of nerve cells. When a neurotransmitter finds its receptor, it activates the receptor’s nerve cell.


The nicotine molecule is shaped like a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. Acetylcholine and its receptors are involved in many functions, including muscle movement, breathing, heart rate, learning, and memory. They also cause the release of other neurotransmitters and hormones that affect your mood, appetite, memory, and more. When nicotine gets into the brain, it attaches to acetylcholine receptors and mimics the actions of acetylcholine.



Nicotine also activates areas of the brain that are involved in producing feelings of pleasure and reward. Recently, scientists discovered that nicotine raises the levels of a neurotransmitter called dopamine in the parts of the brain that produce feelings of pleasure and reward. Dopamine, which is sometimes called the pleasure molecule, is the same neurotransmitter that is involved in addictions to other drugs such as cocaine and heroin. Researchers now believe that this change in dopamine may play a key role in all addictions. This may help explain why it is so hard for people to stop smoking.


Withdrawal symptoms of nicotine:

Once smokers or chewers become dependent on nicotine, they may experience strong physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms if they try to give up. These symptoms may include irritability, dizziness, anxiety, headaches, lack of concentration, disturbed sleeping patterns, feelings of anger, depression, tiredness as well as incredible cravings for more nicotine.


These withdrawal symptoms are at their highest during the first 72 hours after giving up, after which they lesson slightly. Generally, after about 6 weeks these symptoms subside, although an ex smoker may still possess a desire to smoke 6 months or even a year after quitting.
Effects of smoking on heart:



Smoking accelerates the process of atherosclerosis, or the buildup of fatty deposits and cholesterol in the arteries. Each time a person smokes a cigarette, the blood vessels become sticky from the chemicals in the tobacco smoke and this leads to fat collecting and sticking to the artery walls. Most of the other cardiovascular diseases and coronary heart diseases are caused by the progression of atherosclerosis.


Likewise, smoking also increases blood pressure and the heart rate, which means that the body will need more oxygen. The heart will have to work faster to obtain the necessary oxygen, which is in poor supply due to the effects of the carbon monoxide from the tobacco smoke and this will therefore lead to stress on the heart, which could cause angina or a sudden heart attack.




Not only this, but smoking decreases a person’s tolerance to exercise, which would keep the heart strong, and it also increases the tendency for the blood to clot due to an increase in the levels of fibrinogen, a protein that can cause the blood to clot.


Smoking and a stroke:

Cigarette smoking puts people at a higher risk of suffering a stroke. A stroke occurs when there is a lack of blood and oxygen reaching the brain or if an artery ruptures and blood escapes into the brain.


Lack of oxygen to the brain is caused by atherosclerosis in the main artery that leads to the brain, which restricts the blood flow and therefore the amount of oxygen that is carried with it. As the blood flow is restricted due to the fatty deposit build up, which narrows the arteries, a blood clot may form and a stroke will result as the tissues around the brain are starved of oxygen.



Smoking and peripheral vascular disease:

This is the narrowing of the arteries that lead to the hands and feet due to the process of atherosclerosis. The result is a reduced blood supply and poor blood circulation to these areas, which may cause pain whilst walking and at worst may lead to amputation. 90% of sufferers of this disease are smokers.


Benefits of giving up smoking:

The effects and benefits of giving up smoking on the cardiovascular system are immediate and greatly reduce the risk of suffering any one of these diseases. If a smoker quits smoking, after 15 years he has the same risk of suffering from heart disease as a non-smoker.



Once a smoker stops smoking atherosclerosis is slowed down, the blood is less likely to clot and oxygen and blood can pass through the arteries more freely and more easily, which relieves stress on the heart.


Cholesterol levels are also reduced, which will slow the buildup of cholesterol in the arteries and there will be much less carbon monoxide in the body, which means a greater supply of oxygen.


Blood pressure decreases and a person will find it much easier and more pleasurable to exercise, which will keep the heart as well as the rest of the body healthy.


Smoking after or during these events has become a routine and is carried out in an almost ritualistic fashion. Therefore, each time you finish a meal, chat on the phone to your friends, drive to work, go to the pub or read the paper, your brain is alerted that it is time for you to smoke.


The same is true of your emotional attachment to cigarettes. How many of you smoke when you are feeling bored, stressed or lonely, or even all three? Without realizing it, you have formed an emotional bond to cigarettes, whereby they reassure you and comfort you during stressful moments.


Once you pinpoint where your emotional addiction lies, you can then prepare an alternative to smoking in order to cope with the difficult times.


Simple ways to give up smoking:

The first step is to identify which situations trigger you to smoke. Make a list on a sheet of paper.


Your list might include some of the following:

  • Shortly after waking up
  • With your morning coffee
  • Whilst reading the paper
  • On the way to work
  • During a break from work
  • After a meal
  • Whilst watching television
  • When socializing with friends
  • At a party or in a club, bar
  • When you are feeling stressed
  • When you are feeling bored
  • When you drink alcohol


The second step is to work out what you are going to do when these situations occur and you have a craving to smoke.


It is probably best to substitute the cigarette that you would have smoked with a different action, whether it is drinking a glass of water or going for a run around the block, rather than not doing anything at all. You need to fill up the time that you would have spent smoking a cigarette with another action that will take your mind off the craving.


Cravings for nicotine only last for about three minutes, although when you are going through nicotine withdrawal, your sense of time is distorted and three minutes will seem like three hours.


Once the brain and subconscious mind realize that the body is not going to get any nicotine during these situations, the alternative will soon take the place of the cigarette and your cravings will gradually disappear.



The first few days will be the most difficult, yet giving up smoking is not an impossible task, although it may seem so at the time. Each time you do not give in to an urge to smoke, your confidence will build and the next time will be easier. Why not mark off each smoke-free day on your calendar to boost your confidence and keep you going?


As well as providing alternatives to smoking a cigarette, you might want to change your routine slightly to avoid some of the tricky situations.


Take a look at the list you have made of the triggers that set you off to smoke, and start to think about how you can either change your routine or find an alternative to smoking. Write these alternatives down as well.



For example, if you have a cigarette as soon as you wake up, why not jump out of bed and straight into the shower.


Stimulating drinks such as coffee, tea or alcohol should be avoided, so try drinking orange juice with your breakfast and immediately clean your teeth afterwards.


Keep sugar-free boiled sweets or chewing gum in the car for your journey to and from work and during break times, go for a walk, read a book, take a stroll around the shops or do a crossword puzzle, anything to keep you away from your previous smoking routine.


If you usually smoke whilst watching television or reading, pre-prepare some pieces of fruit or vegetable sticks with a dip to snack on instead and always try to keep a glass of water or fruit juice beside you to sip on if you get the urge to smoke.



If you tend to smoke when you are stressed, you might find that going for a walk, taking a few deep breaths, carrying out some energetic housework or relieving some of that tension in a nice warm bath, might be a pleasant and worthwhile alternative to smoking.


Finally, instead of going to the pub, why not try other activities that do not involve smoking such as going to the cinema or theatre, go bowling or go to the gym.


Below is a list of other alternatives to smoking, which should give you a few more ideas. Stick to things that you are interested in and that you would enjoy doing, so that you are actually doing something that you like instead of smoking, rather than something you would not like or that involves too much hassle.



It is extremely important to keep busy, positive and determined during the first few weeks after you have stopped smoking and if you have some kind of a goal to aim for, such as a special treat after a month, it will keep you going and make you even more determined not to light up.


If you feel the urge to smoke or if you need ideas for activities to keep you busy and your mind off of smoking, try some of the following:

  • Take up a new hobby, preferably one that will keep your hands busy
  • Join the gym or attend exercise or dance classes
  • Go for a walk
  • Talk to a friend on the phone
  • Drink a glass of water or juice
  • Read your list of reasons for giving up
  • Chew  sugar-free chewing gum
  • Clean your teeth and use a mouthwash after each meal
  • Have a relaxing bath
  • Do a crossword puzzle
  • Take a few deep breaths and think about what you are doing


Remember that the cravings do not last for long and they will appear less and less frequently as each day passes.



Comments on this Article
sudhakarbyatroy, chikkadasarahalli-sira taluk india Fri, March-18-2011, 2:11
we need to live. we have created an chain, we have to be healthy as long as we live...
Guy Cenname, Los Angeles, CA.USA. Sat, January-1-2011, 3:41
Your well in depth article about smoking was very informative. I have already had 2 HEART ATACKS, last one was 11/17/10. It was near fatal,for I was gone for about 2 minutes. I was brought back from certain death by a second shock from the defibrilator. I had no idea that the smoking may have been a large factor in my choleserol build up in the arteries, and also I had no idea that clots could and would arise from the smoking. It has openedupmy eyes and way of thinking about smoking, even though I have smoked from almost 20 years,a pack a day. NowI seethe need to quit and to always remember to say NO out loud, so that I can train myself to stay away from cig once and for all. Thank you and wish me luck with my desire to quite while I\ mstill alive,and greatfull to be alive again, for the 3rd time. Thanks and Happy New Year for 2011.
judith Lobo, belle/muscat Tue, October-5-2010, 12:30
The risk of heartdisease, stroke, cancer is 20 to 30% higher when compared to non smokers. Environment has toxic substances due to pollution every individual is exposed to it, apart from that our genetic makeup,food habits,lifestyle factors also contribute. Majority of non smokers are exposed to passive smoking. Three different types of tobacco smoke are produced: Mainstream smoker this is smoke directly inhaled by the smoker through a burning cigarette. Exhaled mainstream smoke – this is smoke breathed out by the smoker. Side stream smoke – this is smoke which drifts from the burning end of a Cigarette. Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is the combination of exhaled mainstream smoke and side stream smoke. Side stream smoke contains many cancer causing chemicals and toxic substances. In some cases their levels are thirty times higher than in the smoke inhaled by the smoker. For example, compared to mainstream smoke, side stream smoke contains greater amounts of ammonia, benzene, carbon monoxide, nicotine and some carcinogens from the same amount of burnt tobacco.However,because side stream smoke is mixed with air before being inhaled,the concentration may be less.we are at risk
Philip Mudartha, Qatar Sun, October-3-2010, 9:58
I am a non-smoker. I intend to remain so for life. But I interact with smokers, most of them chain smokers, regularly and daily. I have to. In that process, I passively smoke. But surprises me is that these chain smokers seem to enjoy good health; they eat, drink and live well, better than I. Or it seems so, to me. Any explanations?
Victor DSouza, Moodubelle / Doha Sun, October-3-2010, 2:54
Beautifully written article by Dr. Judith Lobo. Tobacco is an evil which kills slowly. I have seen many people gave up smoking and it is possible to give it up if tried. I am sure this article would motivate the smokers to give up.
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