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The facts about nicotine

Nicotine is not a main cause of smoking-related diseases.

Nicotine is not a main cause of smoking-related diseases.

Published Jun 15, 2022

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Most of us have probably heard of nicotine. But while it’s well-known, it’s also highly misunderstood. Did you know, for example, that it occurs naturally in tobacco, but also at a lower level in other plants such as tomatoes and potatoes?

Natural doesn’t mean safe, of course. Nicotine is addictive, and does carry certain risks—for example, it should not be used by young people, pregnant/breastfeeding mothers and people with certain health conditions. But nicotine is not a main cause of smoking-related diseases.

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So what is?

Well, when a cigarette is burned, more than 6000 chemicals are produced. Around 100 of these have been classified by leading public health agencies as causes—or potential causes—of smoking related diseases.

The best thing a smoker can do is quit tobacco and nicotine altogether. Many don’t though, and that’s where products which don’t burn tobacco, known as smoke-free products, can play a role. Provided these products are scientifically substantiated and manufactured under the appropriate safety and quality controls, they are better options for these adults than continuing to smoke. Smoke-free alternatives include e-cigarettes, heated tobacco or heat-not-burn products, and snus.

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By avoiding burning, significant reductions in the average levels of harmful chemicals can be achieved compared to cigarettes. Changing to scientifically substantiated smoke-free products is a better choice than continued smoking. This doesn’t mean that smoke-free products are risk-free, and each smoke-free product should be individually scientifically validated on its own merit.

But why do these smoke-free products contain nicotine at all? Well, there are many complex reasons why people smoke, including ritual, taste and sensory experiences. Nicotine is an important part of this mix for many smokers. Adult smokers are only likely to switch completely and abandon cigarettes if smoke-free products offer a satisfactory alternative.

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Again, nobody should start using nicotine, and those who do should quit. But good information about what nicotine is—and what it isn’t—can help people who smoke to make better, more informed choices.

To learn more, head to the Unsmoke South Africa homepage.

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