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Information for Youth: Tobacco


​​Tobacco is the second most frequently used legal drug (the first is alcohol). About 19% of Albertans over 12 use tobacco daily or occasionally.

Cigarette smoking is the most common addiction. It's also one of the hardest addictions to quit. But, every year thousands of people in Canada quit smoking for good.

​​​​​What’s in tobacco?

All tobacco contains nicotine, which is an addictive, stimulant drug. Cigarette smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals (about 70 of these chemicals cause cancer). Spit tobacco (chew) contains over 4,000 chemicals (about 30 of these chemicals cause cancer).

Short-Term Effects

Smoking tobacco can make you feel happy and relaxed.

Smoking makes the heart beat faster and increases the blood pressure. The carbon monoxide absorbed by the body from one cigarette stays in the blood for as long as 6 hours. This means the heart has to work harder so the body can get enough oxygen.

New smokers can get a dry and irritated throat, cough, and feel dizzy.

Long-Term Effects

Cigarettes contain tar, which causes cancer. If you have smoked, you are at risk for lung cancer and cancer of the throat, stomach, bladder, kidney, and pancreas.

Long-term smoking can also cause heart disease, strokes, and aneurysms.

Cigarette smoke contains tiny solid particles called tar. When smoke is inhaled, tar is also inhaled and causes lung problems (e.g., shortness of breath). It can also cause breathing problems (e.g., emphysema, chronic bronchitis).

​​​​​Why is so hard to quit smoking?

One of the main ingredients in tobacco is nicotine.

Nicotine is a very addictive drug. All tobacco and tobacco-like products, traditional and organic tobacco, and some herbal products and e-cigarettes have nicotine in them.

Nicotine works fast, sending the brain a sense of pleasure within seconds. However, because this sense of pleasure doesn’t last long, you need to use tobacco again to get that feeling back or to keep it. The first few days of being tobacco-free can be tough!

As the level of nicotine in your body goes down, your body may have recovery (withdrawal) symptoms. These can be uncomfortable—enough to make you start thinking about using tobacco. These symptoms can start as early as 30 minutes after your last cigarette or chew. The longest symptoms last about 4 weeks.

There are safety concerns around e-cigarettes. Because chemicals in the cartridges can vary, it’s hard to know what e-cigarette users and people nearby are breathing in. Tests show they can have toxic chemicals in them that can irritate the lungs and/or make asthma worse.

At this time, Health Canada warns Canadians not to buy or use these products. Alberta Health Services supports Health Canada’s position and warnings.​​

​​​​​Benefits of Stopping Smoking

  • 20 minutes after quitting your heart rate and blood pressure drop.
  • 12 hours after quitting the carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal.
  • 2 weeks to 3 months after quitting your circulation improves and your lung function gets better.
  • 1 to 9 months after quitting coughing and shortness of breath go down. Cilia (tiny hair-like structures in the lungs) start to work normally again, and are able to help clear mucus, clean the lungs, and reduce the risk of infection.
  • 1 year after quitting your risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a person who is still smoking.
  • 5 years after quitting your risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder are cut in half. Cervical cancer risk is the same as a non-smoker. Stroke risk can fall to that of a non-smoker after 2-5 years.
  • 10 years after quitting your risk of dying from lung cancer is about half that of a person who is still smoking. The risk of cancer of the larynx (voice box) and pancreas goes down.
  • 15 years after quitting the risk of coronary heart disease is the same as a non-smoker.

These are just a few of the benefits of quitting smoking for good. Quitting smoking lowers the risk of diabetes, lets blood vessels work better, and helps the heart and lungs. Quitting while you are younger will reduce your health risks more, but quitting at any age can give back years of life that would be lost by continuing to smoke.

​​​​​Is chewing (spit) tobacco safer than smoking?

Spit tobacco contains nicotine. If you use spit tobacco, your clothes might not smell like smoke, but you have to spit often. Spit tobacco is addictive and causes cancer. Spit tobacco is not a safe alternative to smoking.

​​​​​Benefits of quitting

When you stop using tobacco, you’ll notice health benefits right away. Within:

  • 20 minutes your blood pressure drops to normal
  • 12 hours the amount of oxygen in your blood goes up
  • 24 hours your chance of having a heart attack goes down
  • 2 weeks to 3 months your circulation improves and your lungs work up to 30% better
  • 1 year your risk of heart disease is cut in half
  • 5 years your risk of stroke goes down
  • 10 years your risk of lung cancer is cut in half
  • 15 years your risk of heart disease is the same as a non-smoker

​​​​​Smoking and pregnancy

If you smoke, the best thing you can do to protect your health, and your baby’s health, is to quit. Tobacco smoke contains many harmful chemicals. Carbon monoxide (a toxic gas), nicotine, and other harmful chemicals from the smoke enter your bloodstream and pass into your baby’s body. These chemicals keep your baby from getting the food and oxygen he or she needs for growth.

The good news is that by cutting down and quitting, you can help your baby have a healthy start in life. If you find quitting too difficult, talk to your doctor or pharmacist for additional support.

If your partner smokes, ask for their support. If your partner is willing, ask them to quit smoking with you. Quitting can be easier if you support each other.

If your partner isn’t ready to quit, ask your partner to smoke outside in areas away from windows and doors, away from the children and away from you. If you don’t feel safe asking, it’s okay to not ask.

​​​​​What effect does cigarette smoke have on non-smokers?

Second-hand smoke is smoke that people breathe in. It comes from burning tobacco or is exhaled by smokers. Second-hand smoke stays in the air. Even non-smokers who breathe in second-hand smoke have an increased risk of lung cancer and heart disease. More than 300 non-smokers in Canada die every year from lung cancer caused by breathing in second-hand smoke.

Third-hand smoke is the residue and gases left after a cigarette has been smoked. It stays on surfaces such as furniture, walls, clothes, floors, and even pet fur. Babies, children, and pets are at risk because they often crawl on, breathe in, and touch contaminated surfaces.

​​​​​Do people die from tobacco?

More than 47,000 Canadians die each year from tobacco-related diseases. This number includes about 3,400 Albertans.

For more information contact the AlbertaQuits Helpline or visit

Current as of: May 16, 2017

Author: Tobacco Reduction Program, Alberta Health Services