Nicotine is the addictive substance in tobacco products. Cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco and almost all e-cigarettes contain nicotine. People who use tobacco products quickly become addicted to nicotine and thus have a very hard time stopping their use of those products.
Nicotine is not safe. During pregnancy, nicotine exposure harms the developing fetus, and causes lasting consequences for the developing brain and lung function in newborns, according to the U.S. Surgeon General. Nicotine exposure also affects maternal and fetal health during pregnancy, and can result in low birth weights, preterm delivery and stillbirth.
Nicotine's harmful effects on youth don't end with pregnancy. It also negatively impacts brain development in children. Human brain development continues far longer than was previously realized, and nicotine use during adolescence and young adulthood has been associated with lasting cognitive and behavioral impairments, including effects on working memory and attention. In high enough doses, nicotine is also a poison – children have been harmed or even died from drinking e-cigarette liquid.
Most smokers and tobacco users are dependent on nicotine. Research suggests that nicotine is as addictive as heroin, cocaine, or alcohol. That's one of the reasons it's so hard to quit. Withdrawal from nicotine can mean irritability, craving, depression, anxiety, cognitive and attention deficits, sleep disturbances, and increased appetite.
While it may seem counterintuitive, nicotine replacement therapies such as gum, patches, inhalers, nasal spray and lozenges can help tobacco users quit. These products provide a lower level of nicotine than tobacco products and can help reduce withdrawal symptoms while the person transitions to his or her new smokefree life. The various nicotine replacement products each work differently so it's important to talk to your doctor or pharmacist to figure out which one(s) might be right for you.