Nicotine is a substance extracted from the tobacco plant. It is the key addictive component of tobacco products such as cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and brown and white snus. Nicotine is a poison with a powerful impact on the body, and the child’s brain is extra sensitive. In addition, children can get addicted more easily than adults.
Pure nicotine is so toxic that it is banned. If you get 0.5–1.0 g at once, you die. Cigarettes, snus and other nicotine products contain much less nicotine than that, but still enough to make you feel sick or even vomit the first time you use it. It is the body’s warning that nicotine is dangerous. Most people are in their teens when they try products that contain nicotine, and even though the body reacts negatively, many of them try again because of peer pressure, often at school. After a while, tolerance to the nicotine develops and the feeling of discomfort ceases. Then they can experience positive effects of nicotine, such as feeling alert for example.
Young people experience these effects more strongly than adults, and they also run a greater risk of becoming dependent of nicotine. It is a highly addictive substance, to a greater degree than cocaine and heroin. Use snus only 5–6 times and you are in the risk-zone for being addicted.
Statistics show that a third of the adult population in Sweden is addicted to nicotine, and almost all of them became dependent in their teens. 23 percent use nicotine daily and 7 percent at intervals. Being addicted is expensive and you become unfree in your everyday life by always having to make sure to have nicotine within reach. There is also an important risk that using nicotine will, sooner or later, end in adverse health effects.
For example, about 12,000 people die in Sweden each year due to smoking. So far, not much is known about to what extent the use of such products as e-cigarettes and brown and white snus have negative effects on human health.
An increasing number of research studies show how nicotine damages the cardiovascular system, the nervous system, and the brain. For example, nicotine exposure early in the fetal stage risks disrupting normal brain development. Use of nicotine can cause different kinds of changes to how the brain works until the age of 25. Using nicotine risks impairing the memory function and the ability to concentrate on something and there are also strong indications that smoking takes a heavy toll on mental health.
Much more careful research has been undertaken on harmful effects of smoking than on health risks from using other nicotine products, but as use of new nicotine products increases concurrently with decreased smoking, more research is being devoted to the new products. The tobacco industry calls nicotine a stimulant – a substance for relaxation and recreation. From a public health and child-rights perspective, children should be spared such misleading claims. Read more about how the tobacco industry works to enlist children as nicotine consumers and how society can help them say no to all forms of nicotine products and yes to a life free from nicotine addiction.