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What is in Tobacco?

Commercial tobacco products such as cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco, and dry snuff contain dried leaves from the tobacco plant, with various other chemical additives. Tobacco contains a chemical called nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive drug that affects the brain and nervous system. It acts as a stimulant and increases heart rate and breathing. Commercial tobacco products have been refined over the decades to make them more palatable, easier to consume and increase their addictiveness. This is done by the addition of hundreds of other ingredients, many of which are known toxic chemicals.

The burning of tobacco produces smoke that contains more than 4000 chemicals including nicotine, tar, DDT (an insecticide), acetone (an ingredient found in products such as nail polish remover), arsenic (an ingredient found in products such as white ant poison) and carbon monoxide.

Tar is made up of thousands of chemicals, 50 of which are known to cause cancer.

Chewing tobacco can also cause a range of health problems and diseases of the mouth. It puts you at risk for oral and throat cancers, tooth loss, tooth decay, and diseases of the gums.

While nicotine is responsible for the addiction to tobacco, it is the other chemicals added, and produced through burning that are responsible for the diseases and long-term health effects.

A Tobacco-Wise individual, family or community means recognizing the difference between traditional or sacred tobacco and commercial tobacco and having the health information to make personal choices to protect not only your own well-being but also that of your friends and loved ones.

Further information on traditional or sacred tobacco can be found on the Aboriginal Tobacco Program or at Ministry of Long-Term Care: Aboriginal Peoples’ Use of Tobacco

There is no safe level of tobacco use. Any amount of tobacco use carries some risk to health. It is important to know and understand those risks. 


  • Feeling more alert
  • Coughing, dizziness, headaches
  • Fast heart beat
  • Tingling and numbness

Long-Term Health Effects

Regular use of tobacco may cause:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Loss of taste and smell
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Cancer
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack and disease
  • Dependence on tobacco

Exposure to tobacco smoke – even if you are not the one smoking, carries risks as well. See the health effects for Second-hand Smoke under the Smoking/Vaping section or the Canadian Cancer Society.

There is no safe level of tobacco use. Any amount of tobacco use carries some risk to health for everyone.

Youth – Youth are now exposed to a broader spectrum of tobacco products, including smokeless tobacco, water pipes and e-cigarettes. Youth are especially vulnerable to the negative health effects of tobacco because of their developing brain and body. In 2017, 11% of Ontario youth (from grade 7 to grade 12) tried e-cigarettes and 28% of those who used e-cigarettes in the last year used with nicotine. Vaping (using e-cigarettes) has now surpassed tobacco use in youth and trends indicate it getting even more prevalent.

For more information about cessation programs for youth and e-cigarettes, see our Smoking/Vaping section.

Pregnancy is a time when women often think about quitting smoking. Smoking during pregnancy increases the risks to your health and to your growing baby’s health. The best thing you can do is quit. For more information see our Healthy Pregnancy section.

For free Smoking Cessation programs, visit our Smoking/Vaping section.

Infants and children who are exposed to second hand smoke are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects. See our Babies and Children – Safety section for more information.

Smoking rates differ greatly for different populations. For instance, rates are significantly higher for those with lower incomes, LGBTQ persons and Indigenous populations.

For information on cessation:

Public Health Nurses at the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit can help you to quit smoking.

For more information please go to our Smoking/Vaping section.

Health Canada has adopted a strategy to reduce tobacco use to less than 5% by 2035. Read more on what the strategy includes for reducing tobacco use in Canada.

For more information on Health Equity in relation to smoking rates please visit our Health Equity section.