Tobacco and Nicotine: Understanding the Facts

What is tobacco?
Tobacco is a plant. Its leaves are dried and processed to create various tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, and snus.

What is nicotine?
Nicotine is a highly addictive chemical found in tobacco. It is responsible for the addictive nature of tobacco products and keeps people coming back for more.

How does tobacco affect the body?
Tobacco is the largest avoidable cause of ill health and premature death in Europe. 20% of the Maltese population over 15 years of age are still reported to be daily smokers. Second-hand smoke also harms the people around you, especially children, who have a smaller lung capacity than adults.

  • Tobacco use is associated with various health risks, including: 
  • Increased risk of heart disease and stroke 
  • Respiratory problems like chronic bronchitis and emphysema
  • Various types of cancer, including lung, throat, and mouth cancer,
  • Reduced lung function and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Increased risk of infertility and pregnancy complications in women
  • Weakening of the immune system, making the body more susceptible to infections

How does nicotine affect the body?
When nicotine is consumed, whether by smoking, chewing, or vaping, it rapidly enters the bloodstream and affects various organs and systems in the body. Here's how nicotine affects the body:

  • Brain: Nicotine is a highly addictive substance that acts on the brain's reward system, increasing the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. This leads to feelings of pleasure and relaxation, which reinforces the urge to use nicotine again.
  • Heart: Nicotine increases heart rate and blood pressure, causing the heart to work harder. Long-term use can contribute to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Lungs and Respiratory System: Smoking or vaping nicotine exposes the lungs to harmful chemicals and toxins, leading to inflammation and damage to the lung tissue. This damage can result in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and an increased risk of respiratory infections.
  • Cardiovascular System: Nicotine narrows blood vessels, reducing blood flow and potentially increasing the risk of blood clots and atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in arteries).
  • Gastrointestinal System: Nicotine can cause an increase in stomach acid production, potentially leading to heartburn and other digestive issues.
  • Adrenal Glands: Nicotine stimulates the release of adrenaline, which can lead to increased alertness and a temporary energy boost.
  • Skin: Nicotine reduces blood flow to the skin, which can result in premature aging, wrinkles, and a yellowish tint to the skin in chronic smokers.
  • Nervous System: Nicotine is a stimulant, so it can enhance cognitive performance, concentration, and attention temporarily. However, it can also lead to dependency and withdrawal symptoms when not present in the body.

What are e-cigarettes and are they harmful?
E-cigarettes, also known as electronic cigarettes or vaporizers (vapes), are battery-powered devices that deliver nicotine, flavourings and other chemicals in the form of an aerosol. 
E-cigarettes have many health risks and are linked to a number of serious health problems, including lung damage, nicotine addiction and exposure to toxic chemicals.
The long-term health effects of e-cigarettes are not yet fully understood, and most health organizations, including the World Health Organization, advise against using them.
Yes, e-cigarettes are very harmful. They contain nicotine, which is addictive and can harm the developing brains of teens, kids, and foetuses in women who vape while pregnant. E-cigarette vapor also contains many harmful substances, including heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, and ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs. Additionally, e-cigarette use has been linked to severe lung injury, as well as respiratory and cardiovascular problems.

How can I quit smoking?
If you want to quit smoking, congratulations! You should feel proud of yourself! Call the Quitline on 8007 3333 or register for smoking cessation services in the “services” section. The Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Directorate offers free smoking cessation support by appointment in Floriana, Paola, Gzira and Mosta health centres.

Who is this service for?
This free service is for anyone over the age of 18. Call on 8007 3333 and make an appointment. 

What are some tips to help me quit smoking?
 These are some strategies that can help you quit smoking:

  1. Set a quit date: Decide on a specific date to quit and stick to it.
  2. Create a quit plan: Write down your reasons for quitting.
  3. Seek support: Consider reaching out to friends, family, or a support group for help. You can also seek support from healthcare providers or quitlines such as the HPDP smoking quitline; freephone 8007 3333. 
  4. Try nicotine replacement therapy: Nicotine replacement therapy, such as nicotine gum, patches, or lozenges, can help manage withdrawal symptoms. Ask the pharmacist how to use them.
  5.  Avoid triggers: Identify and avoid situations that trigger the urge to smoke.
  6. Stay active: Exercise and engage in other physical activities to distract from cravings and improve overall health.
  7. Reward yourself: Give yourself a reward for reaching specific milestones in your quit journey.
  8. Be patient and persistent: Quitting can be difficult, and it's normal to have setbacks. Keep trying and remember why you decided to quit.

Remember, quitting is a process, and it may take multiple attempts to successfully quit e-cigarettes. It is important to seek support and be patient with yourself throughout the process.