Skip to main content

Tobacco Information

What is Tobacco?

Various types of tobacco productsTobacco is a plant (Nicotiana tabacum and Nicotiana rustica) that contains nicotine, an addictive drug with both stimulant and depressant effects.  

Traditional tobacco is used in small amounts in a variety of Indigenous cultural practices, such as tobacco ties, prayer sticks, smudges, sacred offerings and other methods.  

Commercial and recreational tobacco contains additional chemicals and are often harmful. Tobacco leaves are used to make products that can be consumed in different ways: 

  • smoked in cigarettes, cigars or pipes (common) 
  • smoked in loose form in hookahs (water pipe) 
  • chewed 
  • sniffed as dry snuff 
  • held inside the lip or cheek as wet snuff 
  • mixed with cannabis and smoked in “joints.” 

Tobacco is legal, but federal, provincial and municipal laws control tobacco manufacturing, marketing, distribution and use.   

Facts About Smoking 

Smoking damages your lungs' natural cleaning and repair system and traps cancer-causing chemicals in. Smoking permanently damages the alveoli (air-sacs) in the lungs, making it hard to breathe.

It's common for people who smoke to ignore or downplay the symptoms of lung damage:

  • Feeling out of breath when walking up a short flight of stairs
  • Coughing
  • Spitting up mucous
  • Repeat chest infections

These are not signs of ageing or simply being out of shape. These are real signs of the damage that smoking is doing to your lungs. If you have these signs of smoke damage to your lungs, see your doctor. Smoking doesn't just damage your lungs, it puts you at high risk for many other serious diseases, including cancer.

chemicals in a cigarette

Tobacco smoke also contains over 4,000-7,000 chemicals, many of which are known causes of cancer. Just a few of these chemicals are:

  • Carbon Monoxide (found in car exhaust)
  • Arsenic (rat poison)
  • Ammonia (found in window cleaner)
  • Acetone (found in nail polish remover)
  • Hydrogen Cyanide (gas chamber poison)
  • Napthalene (found in mothballs)
  • Sulphur Compounds (found in matches)
  • Lead
  • Volatile Alcohol
  • Formaldehyde (used as embalming fluid)
  • Butane (lighter fluid)

When you smoke, all of these chemicals mix together and form a sticky tar. The tar sticks to clothing, skin, and to the cilia (tiny hairs) that line the insides of your lungs. The cilia help to clean out dirt and germs from your lungs. If the cilia are covered in tar, they can't do their job properly, and germs, chemicals and dirt can stay in your lungs and cause diseases.

A Note on Waterpipes 

Existing evidence shows that smoking waterpipes carries many of the same health risks and has been linked to the same diseases caused by cigarette smoking. Smoke from waterpipes contains many toxic substances known to cause lung cancer, heart disease, and other diseases. These toxic substances include nicotine, carbon monoxide, tar, and heavy metals.