Drug A - Z


There can be up to 600 additives and flavourings in a single cigarette. There are over 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, many of which are poisonous, 43 of which have been proven to be carcinogenic (causing cancer). These chemicals include:

Nicotine: Nicotine is the main addictive ingredient in tobacco. The strength of addiction is said to be as powerful, or more so, than that of heroin. Nicotine is readily absorbed into the blood and gives a hit (a rush) to the brain in about 10 seconds. It is the regular hits of nicotine that the brain comes to expect and when people quit it causes withdrawal symptoms. Nicotine is a stimulant that increases the heart rate and blood pressure. Nicotine is a poison – swallowing one drop of pure nicotine can kill an adult.

Tar: When a cigarette burns, tar is released and deposited into the lungs every time a person inhales. Smoking 20 or more cigarettes a day deposits 450gm to 650gm into the lungs every year. Tar is the main cause of lung and throat cancer in smokers.

Carbon Monoxide: This is the same chemical pushed out by cars. Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless and very toxic gas, which is taken up more readily by the lungs than oxygen. It prevents the blood carrying oxygen around the body. A heavy smoker’s ability to carry oxygen around the body is reduced by up to 15%. High levels of carbon monoxide in the blood is typical of smokers and, together with nicotine, increases the risk of heart disease, hardening of the arteries and other circulatory problems.

Acetone: Acetone is used as a solvent to remove nail varnish.

Ammonia: Ammonia speeds up the delivery of the nicotine. It freebases the nicotine in the same way as a crack user takes cocaine.

Hydrogen cyanide: Another gas that reduces the body’s ability to carry oxygen around the body.

Benzene: Used as a solvent in fuel and dyes. Known to cause cancer.

Cadmium: Used to make batteries, cadmium is known to cause kidney damage. It increases the risk of developing lung cancer.

Pyridine: Pyridine is a central nervous system depressant that boosts the effect of smoking.

The effects of smoking will vary from person to person and depend on such things as:

  • a person’s susceptibility to chemicals in tobacco smoke;
  • the number of cigarettes smoked per day;
  • the age when the person began smoking; and
  • the number of years of smoking.

Immediate effects

  • smoking one cigarette immediately raises a person’s blood pressure and heart rate and decreases the blood flow to body extremities like the fingers and toes;
  • brain and the nervous system activity is stimulated for a short time and then reduced;
  • a smoker may also experience dizziness, nausea, watery eyes and acid in the stomach; and appetite, taste and smell are weakened.

Other effects of cigarette smoking

  • smokers typically experience shortness of breath, persistent coughs, reduced fitness, yellow stains on fingers and teeth and decreased sense of taste and smell;
  • smokers have more colds and flu than non-smokers and find it harder to recover from minor illnesses;
  • smoking can cause impotence in men, while women who smoke are less fertile than non-smokers;
  • people who smoke tend to have facial wrinkles appearing much earlier and, in general, look older than non-smokers of the same age.

Smokers have an increased risk of developing: 

  • respiratory infections such as pneumonia and chronic bronchitis;
  • emphysema:  a progressive and potentially fatal lung disease;
  • heart attack and coronary disease;
  • cancer of the lung, throat, mouth, bladder, kidney, pancreas, cervix, stomach;
  • stomach ulcers; and
  • peripheral vascular disease due to decreased blood flow to the legs.

A person who is dependent on cigarettes may find that they experience withdrawal symptoms when they cut down or stop smoking cigarettes.  These can include:  increased nervousness and tension, agitation, loss of concentration, changes to sleep patterns, headaches, coughs and cravings.


Smoking during pregnancy can affect the unborn child and babies are more likely to be born underweight, premature or stillborn.

Passive smoking, where a person is subject to breathing in the cigarette smoke of others, can cause lung damage, including cancer and heart disease.

Children exposed to tobacco smoke in the home are more likely to get croup, pneumonia and bronchitis in their first year of life; to develop asthma and suffer from more frequent and more severe attacks; and to become regular smokers themselves.

One in six deaths in New Zealand is related to tobacco use.

Approximately 4,500 New Zealanders die every year from tobacco – that is more than from road crashes, suicide, skin cancers, drowning, homicide and AIDS combined.

One out of two people who smoke die, on average, 14 years earlier than their counterparts who have never smoked.

There are immediate benefits from stopping smoking at any age. For example, within a week, nicotine and carbon monoxide will be out of the system and the lungs will be working more efficiently.

  • Taste buds will come alive and sense of smell improves
  • Breath, hair, fingers, teeth and clothes will look and smell cleaner
  • Within three months, blood flow to the hands and feet improves
  •  After twelve months the risk of cancer and heart disease is reduced

Cigarettes, French for “small cigar”, are a product consumed through smoking and manufactured out of cured and finely cut tobacco leaves and reconstituted tobacco, often combined with other additives, which are then rolled or stuffed into a paper-wrapped cylinder. Cigarettes are ignited and inhaled, usually through a cellulose acetate filter, into the mouth and lungs. Cigarette smoking is the most common method of consumption.

Roll-Your-Own or hand-rolled cigarettes are prepared from loose tobacco, cigarette papers and filters all bought separately. They are usually much cheaper to make.

Cigars are tightly rolled bundles of dried and fermented tobacco which is ignited so that its smoke may be drawn into the smoker’s mouth. They are generally not inhaled because of the high alkalinity of the smoke, which can quickly become irritating to the trachea and lungs. Instead the smoke is generally drawn into the mouth.

Pipe smoking typically consists of a small chamber (the bowl) for the combustion of the tobacco to be smoked and a thin stem (shank) that ends in a mouthpiece (the bit). Shredded pieces of tobacco are placed into the chamber and ignited.