Nicotine Health Issues

The chemical nicotine is an addictive component of cigarettes and naturally occurs in tobacco. With exposure, the body develops a physical, as well as psychological, craving for nicotine. Beyond the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, studies show nicotine has powerful side effects on the cardiovascular system. Nicotine:

New A study from South Africa at the University of Stellenbosch found that exposure to nicotine decreased the overall viability of sperm by between 5 and 15 percent. Read this September 12, 2012 article about the study.

Nicotine itself, even taken out of the act of smoking it, is responsible for vascular smooth muscle cell damage, promoting the formation of hard plaques which lead to artherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Read a summary article about the study to be presented at the Biophysical Society Annual Meeting in February 2012.

According to an article published May 31, 2011 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives entitled "Thirdhand Tobacco Smoke: Emerging Evidence and Arguments for a Multidisciplinary Research Agenda", nicotine plays multiple roles in carcinogenesis through inhibition of apoptosis and cell proliferation (Catassi et al. 2008; Wright et al. 1993; Zhou et al. 2010). It is known to affect oxidative stress and to have adverse effects on brain and lung development in children (Zhou et al. 2010). Nicotine may have adverse effects on vascular function and might promote inflammation (Wittebole et al. 2007). Because nicotine and other THS constituents may be transformed into new toxicants (Sleiman et al. 2010a, 2010b), concerns about potential health risks of THS must include compounds created through secondary reactions.

Nicotine and the increased cholinergic activity it causes have been shown to impede apoptosis, which is one of the methods by which the body destroys unwanted cells (programmed cell death). Since apoptosis helps to remove mutated or damaged cells that may eventually become cancerous, the inhibitory actions of nicotine may create a more favorable environment for cancer to develop.

Researchers from California State Polytechnic University in Pomona presented findings at the American Chemical Society meeting in Anaheim, California on March 27, 2010 showing nicotine raises blood sugar levels, and the more nicotine present, the higher the blood sugar levels. Higher blood sugar levels are linked to an increased risk of complications from diabetes, such as eye and kidney disease. The study's author concluded at the presentation, "This study should encourage diabetics to quit smoking completely, and to realize that it's the nicotine that's raising [blood sugar levels]." Read a news article about the study presentation. See also a 1989 study, which similarly concluded that Nicotine increases glucose levels, making blood sugar levels even harder to manage in diabetics. Go to our Diabetes & Tobacco page for more information.

There are documented cases of tobacco workers suffering from nicotine overdose as a result of handling raw tobacco leaves, a condition known as "Green Tobacco Sickness". Spilling an extremely high concentration of nicotine onto the skin can result in intoxication or even death since nicotine readily passes into the bloodstream from dermal contact. In some cases children have become poisoned by topical medicinal creams which contain nicotine. Read more at

Last update: 9/26/12