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Smoking & tobacco

Facts about smoking

Is there a safe tobacco

No. There is no safe tobacco.

Tobacco is the only product in the world that kills half of the people who use it exactly as directed.

Tobacco contains more than 4,000 chemicals; many of them cause cancer. Whether you smoke tobacco in a pipe or a cigar, or chew it in your mouth, it's still harmful to your health. Here are some facts on some of the most common tobacco products and their health risks:

Cigars and pipes

Smoking tobacco in a cigar or pipe has many of the same health risks as smoking cigarettes. Cigars and pipe contain nicotine, which is addictive. And you are still breathing in the same harmful chemicals as people who smoke cigarettes. Smoking cigars and pipes raises your risk for a number of serious diseases:

  • Cancer of the lungs, larynx, mouth, throat, lips, tongue and pancreas
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  • Heart disease

More information on cigars and pipes

Smokeless tobacco

Spit, chew and snuff are all types of smokeless tobacco products.

Chew or spit tobacco is a leafy tobacco sold in pouches or brick form. It is often sweetened with molasses and sugar to make it taste good.

Snuff, another form of spit tobacco, is ground into a fine powder. It is sold in small tins. The moisture in your mouth and nose releases the nicotine, which goes through the lining of your mouth and nose and into your bloodstream.

Like cigarettes, smokeless tobacco is also highly addictive. Some people believe that using smokeless tobacco is safer because you chew or snort it instead of smoke it. Smokeless tobacco, however, has a number of serious health risks:

  • Cancer of the mouth, throat, lip, tongue and cheek
  • Severe tooth and gum disease
  • Ulcers and upset stomach

Some athletes believe spit tobacco gives them more energy and isn't harmful. They are wrong. The short boost from nicotine actually puts stress on your heart and lungs, which limits your athletic ability.

What about light cigarettes?

Many smokers think light cigarettes have less nicotine, tar and other harmful chemicals than regular cigarettes. In fact, someone smoking a light cigarette absorbs just as much or more tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide.

The word "light" is very misleading. It refers only to the way the cigarette tastes. There's no standard that says how much tar or nicotine a "light" cigarette should have.

Light cigarettes taste lighter because tiny holes in the filter (called vents) allow more air to enter the cigarette. The smoker inhales "air-diluted" smoke, which makes the cigarette taste lighter but doesn't change the actual amount of chemicals in the smoke.

Studies show that people smoke light cigarettes differently than regular cigarettes because they still crave the same amount of nicotine. They tend to:

  • Take longer puffs
  • Take more puffs
  • Smoke the cigarette down to the filter
  • Block the tiny ventilation holes in the filter
  • Hold the smoke in their lungs longer

By changing the way you smoke, you get your usual dose of nicotine. But you can end up getting more tar, carbon monoxide and other dangerous chemicals as well.

There are no health benefits to smoking "light" cigarettes. Switching to a light brand is not a substitute for quitting. Like smoking regular cigarettes, light cigarettes increase your risk for cancer, lung disease, heart attack and other health problems.

Roll-your own cigarettes

Some people buy loose tobacco in tins or pouches and roll their own cigarettes. These are not safer than regular cigarettes. In fact, they may even be more harmful because they don't burn as well as manufactured cigarettes and may actually be worse for your health than manufactured cigarettes.

"Natural" or organic tobacco

Some people grow their own tobacco and think it's safer because it's "natural." Smoking homegrown tobacco doesn't make it any safer. You're still breathing in hot, dirty, toxic smoke into your lungs.

Waterpipe smoking (also called hookah, sheesha, or hubble-bubble)

Some people smoke tobacco or other substances through a waterpipe. Originally used in the Middle East, watrerpipes are becoming more popular in Canada. They consist of a large bowl connected to a vase of water with a long tube or mouthpiece used for smoking flavoured tobacco. Some people believe that smoking from a waterpipe is safe, but this is not true. According to the World Health Organization, “using a water pipe to smoke tobacco is not a safe alternative to cigarette smoking." Smoke from waterpipes contains many toxic substances known to cause lung cancer, heart disease, and other diseases. These include nicotine, carbon monoxide, tar and heavy metals.

Learn more about waterpipe smoking

Health effects of water pipe smoking, from the World Health Organization (a report in PDF format)

City of Ottawa fact sheet on water pipe smoking

US Center for Disease Control hookah fact sheet (hookah is another word for water pipe)