Tobacco is just a plant that farmers grow, so why is so bad for you?

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Even though it is an agricultural product, it isn’t like a potato, an ear of corn, or a strawberry, which is just harvested and then eaten, in its pure form.  After the tobacco leaves have been harvested they must be cured or dried.  This will remove the sap from them.  The leaves are then aged for two or three years and during this time a chemical change takes place.  The chemical change is called fermentation.  The fermenting process improves the aroma and taste of the leaves.  When processing the tobacco they add various additives, which are used for a variety of purposes:

  • To create a specific flavor
  • To keep the tobacco moist
  • To make the smoke easier to inhale (an example of this is menthol)
  • To make secondhand smoke less objectionable
  • To adjust the amount and speed of the nicotine effect to the smoker or chewer

The tobacco industry supplied documents to the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services in 1994 listed 599 ingredients that are the different additives in cigarettes.  In this list they did not include nicotine because it is native to the tobacco plant.  Manufacturers of smokeless tobacco products provided 562 of the ingredients on the list they supplied. 

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Did you know that when the tobacco leaves are processed with the additives and wrapping paper and then set on fire, there are about four thousand substances that stream into the mouth, airways, and lungs?  The particle residue of this material is what we call tar, in honor of its sticky brown appearance wherever it accumulates.  Tar will accumulate on teeth, fingers, and in the lungs.  When it accumulates in the lungs it is known to be especially harmful.  There are many of the tobacco-related compounds that are produced when smoking that are not fit for human consumption.  They include:

  • Carcinogens – Carcinogens are chemicals that are known to be one of the leading causes of cancer.  At least sixty carcinogens have been identified in tobacco smoke and twenty-eight in smokeless tobacco.  A potent group of carcinogens, tobacco-specific nitrosamines (or TSNAs), are very abundant in cigars and in smokeless tobacco.
  • Poisonous Gases – The poisonous gases found include hydrogen cyanide, nitrogen oxides, and especially carbon monoxide, the lethal odorless gas normally associated with car exhaust and malfunctioning heaters!  Carbon monoxide binds strongly to hemoglobin in red blood cells, reducing the amount of oxygen they can carry and contributing to tobacco’s harmful effects on the heart.
  • Nicotine – This compound is the one most well known to be associated with the use of tobacco.  Nicotine is what gives tobacco both its primary appeal and its major additive hook.  Depending on the amount and speed of delivery, nicotine has the unique capacity to be stimulating and relaxing at the same time.  Many consider it to be as physically and psychologically addictive as drugs such as cocaine and heroin.  It is not uncommon for people who have undergone success drug and rehabilitation treatment programs for drugs will still remain addicted to cigarettes.

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Smokers who try to reduce their cancer risk and tobacco dependence by switching to light or mild cigarettes that are said to contain less tar and nicotine rarely accomplish their goal.  Instead, the vast majority of these people compensate, whether they realize it or not, by inhaling even more deeply and frequently, or sill smoke more often, to absorb as much nicotine from the light brand as they had be getting before they switched.  The bottom line is that smoking any brand, light or otherwise, is a terrible health risk.

It has been know for many years that tobacco worsens the quality of life not only for the users, but those around them in a number of different ways.

  • The stale, rank smell of smoke will permeate the home, cars, clothes, hair and breath.
  • The impaired sense of taste and smell makes it so that they can’t enjoy the taste of food as much.
  • Cigarette burns have damaged many pieces of furniture, clothing, and other items.
  • Ashes, cigarette and cigar butts, and wads of tobacco and saliva spit out by chewers create a disgusting mess.
  • Many food processing suppliers have lost points on food safety audits due to cigarette butts being seen on the premises by third party food safety auditors.
  • Major damage and loss of life have resulted from fires set people who fall asleep while smoking or who toss a burning cigarette out of their vehicles.  According to the National Fire Protection Agency, smoking materials are the leading cause of fatal fires in the United States, resulting in approximately 830 deaths, 1770 injuries, and more than $386 million in property damage every year.
  • High personal financial costs, such as the price of the tobacco products, which are extremely expensive for regular users, and increased life and health insurance premiums for smokers.
  • Smokers face increasing social isolation, as smoke-free environments are becoming the rule rather than the exception in the United States.
  • Smokers are considered to set a bad example for children and teenagers.  Children of adults who smoke not only suffer exposure to health-robbing secondhand smoke but also are found to be more likely to use tobacco themselves, as they get older.
  • According to statistics it has been shown that children and adolescents who smoke are not only more likely to use alcohol and illegal drugs but also to carry weapons, get involved in fights and high risk sex, and attempt suicide.

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A typical cigarette contains only about one milligram (mg) of nicotine, but delivers it directly from the lungs into the bloodstream with remarkable efficiency, which is only rivaled being injected into the veins.   If a person had a 60 mg dose of nicotine all at once, it would be lethal.  Nicotine from cigars and smokeless tobacco enters the bloodstream more slowly but often in a greater quantity.  A cigar or a dip of chew may contain the amount of nicotine found in three or more cigarettes. 

With this information and knowing why tobacco is bad for you, wouldn't it be a smart move to never use tobacco?