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Teacher's Guide

Tobacco Addiction

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Tobacco, which comes primarily from the plant nicotiana tabacum, has been used for centuries. It can be smoked, chewed, or sniffed. The first description of addiction to tobacco is contained in a report from the New World in which Spanish soldiers said that they could not stop smoking.

When nicotine was isolated from tobacco leaves in 1828, scientists began studying its effects in the brain and body. This research eventually showed that, although tobacco contains thousands of chemicals, the main ingredient that acts in the brain and produces addiction is nicotine. More recent research has shown that the addiction produced by nicotine is extremely powerful and is at least as strong as addictions to other drugs such as heroin and cocaine.

Some of the effects of nicotine include changes in respiration and blood pressure, constriction of arteries, and increased alertness. Many of these effects are produced through its action on both the central and peripheral nervous systems.