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Cigarette Smoking: History, Causes & Effects

Instructor: Chevette Alston

Dr. Alston has taught intro psychology, child psychology, and developmental psychology at 2-year and 4-year schools.

This brief lesson give the history of tobacco and the effects that are currently known about its use. It describes forms of tobacco and products used in the United States.

What Is Tobacco?

Tobacco has been around longer than the United States. Tobacco is a plant that belongs to the genus of the nightshade family Nicotiana; the scientific name of one species is Nicotiana tabacum. The leaves are prepared for smoking, chewing, or snuff (powdered tobacco).

The first known use of tobacco was by pre-Columbian America. In the United States, Native Americans cultivated the plant and smoked it in pipes for medicinal and ceremonial purposes. The negative health effects of tobacco were not initially known. Actually, most early European physicians supported the Native American belief that tobacco was an effective medicine.

Effects

Unfortunately, research has shown tobacco is not an effective medicine because it contains a variety of chemical agents. Several of them are carcinogens, or substances that tend to increase the likelihood of cancer. Some of the well-known toxins have been recognized by researchers as poisons to the human body. Examples of these are tar, arsenic, and even lead. The most well-known toxin is nicotine, which is an oily, colorless, water-soluble liquid that is found in tobacco, as well as in insecticides.

Nicotine is a psychoactive, a chemical that contributes to smoking addictions because it is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream and easily crosses the blood-brain barrier to trigger the pleasure area. When tobacco is smoked, the nicotine in it can create a physical and psychological dependence that is hard to break.

In addition to a variety of cancers, the long-term effects of these chemicals are cardiovascular disease, strokes, aneurysms, and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). COPD is often known by the sub-categories of bronchitis and emphysema. High blood pressure (hypertension) can be caused by tobacco use, or the use of tobacco will exacerbate high blood pressure. Furthermore, women who smoke while pregnant not only put themselves at risk, but their unborn children are at risk as well. Many of these women experience infertility, preterm delivery, stillbirths, and even SIDS, or sudden infant death syndrome.

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