Nicotine: An Instrument of Death

It seems we can't watch television, listen to the radio or read the newspaper without hearing about someone being killed. In many cases, these folks were simply going about their daily routines. They didn't choose to end their lives. They simply didn't have a choice.

What's my point? While none of us knows how long we have, we have the power to make wise choices about death-inducing dangers. In this case, nicotine — a menace that claimed more American lives last year than World War II and Vietnam combined. To be precise: 430,000 lives — that's equivalent to three 747s being downed every day of the year without any survivors.


So many peoples' lives cut short by this instrument of death. What's even more tragic? Many of these deaths could have been prevented because everyone knows by now that nicotine kills. Yet we don't see this killer on the post office wall with a big WANTED label over its picture.

Here's the question: Why not? Why is a substance that can cause a teenager to become addicted to it within two weeks be so easy to get? It just doesn't make sense. No matter its disguise — cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco or snuff — nicotine is simply not safe.

Smoke Screens

Here are the cold, ugly facts:

  • Nicotine addiction can occur very early in life. The younger a person starts, the greater the chance that he or she will become a heavy smoker as an adult.
  • Seventy percent of all high-school seniors smoking today will be smoking in 2007 (not a good graduation gift to keep).
  • Teens are more likely to smoke if their friends or parents smoke.
  • Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among women and men; more than 80 percent of these cancers are caused by smoking.
  • There are more than 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke; at least 50 of those have been proven to cause cancer.

For more common questions and expert answers on the impact of smoking on the body, visit

Nicotine: An Instrument of Death (<i>cont'd</i>)

  • Secondhand smoke is a potential killer. It contains DDT, arsenic, formaldehyde and carbon monoxide. It's linked to infant pneumonia, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and asthma, as well as middle ear infections in toddlers and older children. In adults it's linked to asthma, stroke and cardiovascular disease, cancer and even respiratory failure.
  • Low-tar, low-nicotine cigarettes do not decrease your risk of lung cancer, heart attack, bronchitis or emphysema.
  • Ventilated filters do not reduce the harmful risks of tobacco exposure.
  • Cigar smoke contains as many dangerous chemicals as cigarette smoke, and is known to cause cancers of the mouth, throat and esophagus.
  • Pipe smoking greatly increases the level of carbon monoxide in the blood. Pipe smokers have an increased risk for lip and mouth cancer.
  • Chewing tobacco and snuff are not safe alternatives to cigarettes. These forms of tobacco can produce very high levels of nicotine in a person's blood and increase his or her risk for nicotine dependence and cancers of the mouth, tongue and throat.

I know many smokers want to quit, and I realize this addictive habit is very hard for many people to break, but please don't give up. This is where the quote "If you don't succeed the first time, then try, try again" comes into play. It's a fact that the more times you attempt to quit, the better your chances are for succeeding.

Fortunately, we have more options today for helping you succeed against this enemy of good health, but you need to take the first step by contacting your health care professional. I know it's hard, but your life's clock is ticking. There's no time like the present to get started.


Copyright 2003, Dr. Rob Danoff

Robert Danoff, D.O., M.S., is a family physician. He is program director of Family Practice Residency Frankford Hospitals, Jefferson Health System, Philadelphia, Pa. He also is a medical correspondent for The Comcast Network, CN8, contributing writer to the New York Times and writes a weekly medical column for the Bucks Courier Times, Bucks County Pa.

For more common questions and expert answers on the impact of smoking on the body, visit