Republished: Nicotine and health

BMJ. 2014 Nov 26:349:2014.7.0264rep. doi: 10.1136/bmj.2014.7.0264rep.


Nicotine, an alkaloid derived from the leaves of tobacco plants (Nicotiana tabacum and Nicotiana rustica) is the primary addictive agent in tobacco products.(1,2) There are different ways of administering the various products including smoking cigarettes, chewing tobacco, holding moist snuff in the mouth, inhaling dry snuff through the nose, inhaling smoke from a waterpipe and inhaling vapour from an electronic cigarette.(3-6) It can be difficult differentiating the effects of nicotine from the many other toxic substances these products also contain. Here we review the pharmacological effects of nicotine but we will not review the well-known harmful effects of cigarettes, where it is primarily the toxins and carcinogens in tobacco smoke rather than the nicotine that cause illness and death.(7) A future article will consider the use of electronic cigarettes.