What is tobacco?

Tobacco comes from the tobacco plant, the Nicotiana tabacum. The tobacco that is smoked usually consists of a mixture of different types of tobacco, to which fragrances and flavours have been added, the so-called blend. Each brand has its own secret recipe for making their blend.

The active ingredient in tobacco is nicotine, a substance that, among other things, increases your heart rate and speeds up your breathing. These are signs associated with drugs in the group of stimulants, or “uppers”.


Nicotine is a stimulant. The effect of a substance is determined by the properties of the substance itself, but also by the set and setting of the user. Here we describe the effects tobacco generally has.

After using nicotine, the heart rate increases and breathing accelerates. Some people find that they can concentrate better or feel more relaxed. The appetite is also inhibited. If you smoke little, it has a stimulating effect. If you smoke a lot, it has a more relaxing effect. The desired effect of tobacco is largely determined by the degree of physical and mental dependence. The positive effects partly consist of the elimination of withdrawal symptoms in smoking addiction. This applies, for example, to the increased concentration and the relaxing effect. Novice smokers may feel nauseous and dizzy.

Positive effects

  • Relaxation
  • Increase in concentratioin
  • Increase in confidence
  • Alertness

Side effects (neutral or negative)

  • Increase in blood pressure and heart rate
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Craving
  • Irritation of the airways
  • Confusion and restlessness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headache
  • Cold hands and feet

Dosage and method of use

Tobacco can be used in many different ways. The strength of the effect depends on the method of use and the amount of nicotine.

Tobacco use

Tobacco comes in various forms, but is most commonly smoked or vaporized. Other forms of nicotine intake are tobacco powder, chewing tobacco, snus, or nicotine patches.

  • Tobacco is usually smoked. This can be in the form of a cigarette, shag, cigar or pipe. The nicotine then ends up in the lungs with the smoke. Tobacco smoke contains at least 40 substances that cause cancer. The best known substances in tobacco smoke are: nicotine, tar and carbon monoxide. There are other ways in which tobacco can be used;
  • Nicotine can also be vaporized with a vaporizer or e-cigarette. A nicotine-containing liquid is often used for this. When evaporating, no harmful combustion products such as tar or carbon monoxide are released. As a result, it could be less harmful than smoking tobacco. However, the health risks of vaping tobacco have not yet been sufficiently studied.
  • Tobacco powder can be snorted through the nose, but this is very rare.
  • Chewing tobacco: the nicotine in the tobacco then mixes with the saliva. The nicotine now enters the blood via blood vessels in the inside of the cheeks and tongue. The tobacco is spat out. Swallowing it can make you very nauseous. This form of tobacco intake is hardly ever done in the Netherlands.
  • With snus, the tobacco is contained in a tablet or tea bag that is placed under the upper lip. It is therefore also absorbed through the blood vessels in the mouth. This way of ingestion is quite popular in Sweden, but is rare in the Netherlands.
  • Nicotine can be absorbed through the skin, for example nicotine patches. This spreads the release of nicotine over a longer period of time. This is used when someone wants to quit smoking. This is also a method of use by smokers when they are not allowed to smoke for a long time, such as during a long flight.

A cigarette contains 0.13 – 2 mg of nicotine. The amount of nicotine you inhale also depends on the way you smoke: the volume with which you inhale, how deeply you inhale, the number of puffs you take from a cigarette and the air/smoke ratio of the inhaled tobacco smoke.

Smoking Dosages

Light dose 0.4 – 0.6 mg

Average dose 0.6 – 1 mg

High dose 1 – 4 mg


Nicotine is the addictive substance in tobacco. Seven seconds after inhalation, nicotine reaches the brain and you feel the effects. After 1-2 hours, half of the nicotine has left the body. The elevated blood pressure persists for several hours after smoking a cigarette.


Nicotine is the most addictive substance we know. The body develops an acute habituation and adapts to the nicotine from the first puff. As a result, you need more and more nicotine to still feel the effect and withdrawal symptoms quickly appear. This already happens when the dose of nicotine to which the body has become accustomed declines. You start to feel restless, you become irritated, you can no longer concentrate, you get a headache and you don’t sleep well. If you start smoking, these withdrawal symptoms will disappear. The calming effect that some people experience after smoking is really nothing more than the disappearance of the withdrawal symptoms caused by smoking. You basically want a constant level of nicotine and smoke all day long. You only notice that you have become dependent on nicotine when you want to stop.

The tobacco industry has developed several techniques to manipulate the nicotine in a cigarette and add additional ingredients to tobacco. For example, substances to widen the airways so that the tobacco smoke can be inhaled more deeply. With therefore also more nicotine taken in which enhances the addictive effect.

Nicotine stimulates the release of adrenaline. This raises the heart rate and constricts the blood vessels. Blood pressure rises. Cigarette smoke also contains carbon monoxide: a colourless and odorless gas that attaches to red blood cells 200 times faster than oxygen. A large part of the red blood cells therefore transports little or no oxygen, so that parts of the body get a shortage of oxygen.

Long term risks

  • Increased chance on arrhythmia, heart attack, stroke
  • Increased chance on cancer in the mouth, throat, esophagus and lungs (only with smoking)
  • Increased chance on bronchitis or smokers cough (only with smoking)
  • Damage to the vocal chords (only with smoking)
  • Decreased resistance and physical condition
  • Decrease in fertility and harm to the unborn child
  • Unhealthy skin
  • Unhealthy teeth and gum
  • Physical addiction


Combining different types of drugs can be risky and unpredictable. When you combine drugs you can have a higher risk of health problems. In the following paragraphs you can read about the effects and the risks of a number of combinations that occur frequently and also a about few that are extra hazardous. Also check our theme combining drugs.

Cannabis and tobacco

In the Netherlands it is customary to roll joints with tobacco. This is actually an weird habit. It is easy, but it also increases the risks.


The experiences of people who combine cannabis and tobacco as opposed to pure use vary. Some combiners experience a stronger high, while others indicate that the high is less. Pure smoking would make you energetic and active. Although of course it also depends on the type of cannabis you have.

Smoking for tobacco or cannabis?

If you fancy a joint, do you fancy the tobacco or the cannabis? Your body quickly gets used to tobacco and because tobacco is very addictive, it may well be that your body is actually subconsciously asking for tobacco. You then think you feel like using cannabis, but maybe your body just asks for tobacco. People who switch to vaping or pure cannabis regularly report that they are using less often.


Cannabis users often inhale joints of tobacco deeper and longer. This causes more damage to the lungs. The use of tobacco increases the risk of various types of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, pneumonia and reduced functioning of the immune system of the lungs.


Combined use of cannabis and tobacco increases the rewarding effects in the brain. The use of tobacco in a joint therefore promotes an addiction. Cannabis is mainly mentally addictive. The tobacco ensures that a joint also has a physically addictive effect. Smoking a joint with tobacco also increases the chance of relapse if you want to stop using cannabis.

Unity tips

There is no way to safely smoke. When you smoke light or filter cigarettes, you also ingest harmful substances. Moreover, it appears that smokers of these cigarettes smoke more or inhale more deeply in order to maintain the nicotine level. Not smoking over your lungs is also not risk-free. Throat, mouth, and esophageal cancer can still occur. The only solution to limit the risks is not to smoke. The body can then recover. The shorter one has smoked, the faster it goes.



Read more

Read more information about tobacco and nicotine in English on the website of Jellinek.

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