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Tobacco is a plant that contains nicotine, which is the chemical that makes someone addicted to tobacco. Depending on how the tobacco leaves are processed, or if other substances are added, it can change how the tobacco smoke tastes and how much nicotine it contains. Other substances are sometimes added to tobacco such as: methanol oils, ammonia, glycerol, fruit extracts and even chocolate (CAMH – About Tobacco).

Name How it Works Side Effects

Street Names: Cigs, Smokes, Fags, Cancer Sticks

When you consume tobacco (in a cigarette, cigar or pipe), the nicotine is absorbed by the lungs, travels through the bloodstream and reaches the brain in 10 seconds. It can make you feel energized, more alert and/or calm.

First time users:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Bad breathe

Regular smokers:

  • Faster breathing
  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Bad breathe

Long term effects:

  • Yellow teeth
  • Accumulation of tar and plaque on teeth
  • "Smoker's cough"
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer (of the lungs, mouth and/or stomach)
  • Respiratory failure

Chewing Tobacco
Street Names: Smokeless Tobacco, Chew, Snuff, Spit

It is held between the teeth and the cheeks and is left there to mix with the user's saliva, which creates a tar-like substance that the user spits out. It's more addictive than cigarettes because the nicotine is absorbed through the cheeks and goes directly to the bloodstream.

Sources: Healthy Canadians – Nicotine Addiction, Canadian Dental Association, CAMH – Did You Know...Tobacco,

Illegal/Contraband Cigarettes

Illegal cigarettes are not made by a licensed manufacturer, which means that the chemicals in the cigarette are not regulated – you can never actually know what chemicals have been added. Illegal cigarettes are typically much cheaper than legally sold cigarettes in Canada and are not sold at retail areas such as gas stations. Illegal cigarettes are available across Canada and come from various sources, including small plants run by organized crime groups to "Smoke Shacks" which are found on some Reserves. Not knowing what is in cigarettes or where it was made, makes illegal cigarettes that much more dangerous because you cannot predict the effects that they will have on your body (Health Canada-Tobacco Analysis).

Tolerance, Dependence and Withdrawal

Nicotine is addictive, and can quickly lead to a physical dependence on the drug. Most people who try to stop smoking experience withdrawal symptoms, which can be very hard to cope with. Most withdrawal symptoms will happen in the first week, and lesson or disappear after 2-4 weeks.

Withdrawal symptoms include: headaches, dizziness, shakiness, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, increased appetite, irritability, lack of concentration, and extreme cravings (Health Canada: Addiction).


According to the Tobacco Act, retailers can only sell tobacco to individuals aged 18 and older. However, Nova-Scotia, New-Brunswick, Newfoundland, Ontario and British-Colombia increased the minimum age to 19.

Under The Non-Smokers Health Act (1985), federally-regulated workplaces are smoke-free under federal legislation. Since 2008, all provinces and territories have implemented smoking bans in public and enclosed places such as restaurants and bars.

What You Can Do

For more information on tobacco and nicotine, please talk to your family doctor or your school counsellor.


Dealing with any type of addiction is never easy. If you are thinking about starting to smoke, are smoking, or are smoking and can't stop, you can:

  • talk about it with your parents, legal guardian, a friend, a teacher, a counsellor, a doctor or any other health care professional that will know how to help you;
  • call Kids Help Phone  at 1-800-668-6868, (where they can provide anonymous phone counselling); and/or
  •  visit the Quit4life website made especially for youth.


If you think a youth you know is dealing with a nicotine addiction or who is smoking or, using chewing tobacco, talk to them about it. If they don't want to talk to you, provide them with other options such as:

  • going with them to talk to a doctor, counsellor, or other health care professional;
  • sharing youth-appropriate information with them, that they can look at on their own time; and/or,
  • suggesting they contact Kids Help Phone  (1-800-668-6868), a free, 24-hour anonymous professional telephone counseling and live chat service.