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Is Nicotine Dangerous?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Nicotine in high doses acts as an effective nerve poison and can have a number of potentially harmful side effects. It is extremely physically addicting, though estimates on the exact degree of addiction range wildly from very low levels to those rivaling that of heroine or cocaine. If taken in large doses — larger than almost anyone is likely to achieve through smoking — it may induce severe nausea or vomiting. In small doses, it may increase blood pressure, which can prove harmful, or in very rare cases, be fatal to those with dangerous heart conditions.

A number of recent studies have strongly linked nicotine itself to various cancers. This means that in addition to the cancer risks posed by tar through smoking, the chemical itself increases a smoker's chances of developing cancer. It also means that even those who use patches and gums are raising their likelihood of getting cancer. This link is thought to be caused by a property of the chemical that retards the body's ability to slough off damaged cells, giving cancerous cells more time to develop.

The lethal dosage of nicotine for a 150 pound (68 kg) male is 60 mg. This is less than both arsenic and strychnine. American cigarettes contain approximately 9 mg each (compared with 19 mg in a New Zealand cigarette, for example), but after burning, only about 1 mg enters the body over the course of smoking an entire cigarette. While this results in amounts well below the lethal dosage, over time, this poison can weaken the immune system and cause fatigue and other minor maladies.

Much more enters the body through chewing tobacco and many patches and gums than through smoking cigarettes; nicotine levels should be monitored when using these methods of disbursement. While gums and patches have maximum recommended doses, chewers of tobacco should be aware of how much of the chemical they are sending directly to their blood stream. An average pinch of chew held in the cheek for half an hour provides as much as smoking three or four cigarettes.

Nicotine is also a very potent insecticide, used as a natural alternative to chemical pest control substances. In most marketed forms, it contains 40% pure nicotine sulfate, mixed with water and sprayed on to crops. When used in warm weather, it provides optimal results, breaking down quickly to non-toxic levels and allowing for wide-spread use on food crops, even very close to harvest.

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Discussion Comments
By anon989074 — On Feb 18, 2015

@anon1146: All tobacco related products have nicotine in them. Even E-juice without nicotine has some in it.

@anon23050: Electronic cigarettes are safer, doesn't burn tobacco so no tar or harmful smoke. But the only thing to worry about with E-cigarettes is the nicotine. Nicotine is cancer causing. I have been doing a research project and found lots of stuff talking about nicotine being cancer causing.

By anon941334 — On Mar 22, 2014

The oral lethal dose of nicotine is much higher than previously believed: 500 - 1000 mg, or 0.5 - 1.0 gram.

Prof. Bernd Mayer from Franzens University, Graz provided new insight: "How much nicotine kills a human? Tracing back the generally accepted lethal dose to dubious self‑experiments in the nineteenth century."

By anon338448 — On Jun 13, 2013

I smoked a pack-plus a day for over 20 years. I started vaping and I haven't smoked or wanted cigarette for weeks. I recommend any long term smoker to get a quality e cig kit and give it a shot. I tried the patch, nicotine gum, cold turkey, and nothing ever worked but this.

By anon337960 — On Jun 09, 2013

We will all die of something. Pick your poison.

By anon327814 — On Mar 31, 2013

@anon62220: To give you an answer: about 18mg of nicotine. Just remember you are getting it without all the other junk in a regular cigarette. Also, it's new and fun to vape and some flavors are really good tasting, like the sweet raspberry I am vaping right now, so you may vape more.

Just go read about quitting regular cigarettes, because some things they try to relate to e-cigs is really caused by withdrawal from some of the other chemicals in the analog. I have been vaping for three years and no I am not trying to quit. My advice is just go research a lot of different places. Vaping and smoking are about as alike as using a asthma inhaler and burning leaves in your yard. Keep on vaping!

By anon282379 — On Jul 29, 2012

Yes, it's a very tricky subject, especially with electronic cigarettes that do not burn. I switched 5 years ago and started on 15mg and am finally down to 7mg before going to 0mg for a year (vaporizing pure glycerin with vanilla or a little chocolate flavor).

I think one concern is that of doses above 4mg - not speaking scientifically but from experience, and would advocate very low doses lower than 4mg (just buy glycerin and mix it!) I think it is a huge leap and a good one to decide to switch to electric cigarettes.

If things in life get too hard like divorce or losing loved ones, it's better to just have a low dose vape. You can just stop easily for months with no sweat at those levels unless you've recently switched or it is helping psychologically. Warning, though: it still is poison. I see 0mg vaping as being akin to 'decaf' tea. Although if you haven't ever smoked, honestly, save the trouble of the highs and lows, though not hellish, are enough to be unpleasant.

By anon274649 — On Jun 12, 2012

anon11446, post 2: Almost every plant contains nicotine.

As far as I'm concerned, it's a common substance that is good for humans. However, we don't need too much of anything - it turns to bad.

I'm switching to e-cigs and will gradually lower my intake until it is 0mg. Hopefully, then I will replace it with a lung detox and regeneration food plus some simple exercise.

Smoking is too troublesome for me to enjoy it - tar, cost, smell, etc. People who talk lightly about quitting smoking don't know how hard it could be and most of them never actually smoked. Little do they know that only one thing can beat smoking -- willpower -- and it's like moving a mountain.

By anon258673 — On Apr 02, 2012

"A number of recent studies have strongly linked nicotine itself to various cancers..." I'm pretty sure I came across those studies and they found that nicotine may accelerate tumor growth, not cause cancer. So it would only be bad if you had cancer in the first place. Another study at Pubmed found that nicotine did not enhance tumor growth. Besides if nicotine caused cancer, then why don't epidemiological studies of swedish snus show any significant association?

So it is an insecticide, so what? Am I an insect? (you are probably saying yes you are but I am only being a wiseguy here) So is menthol in peppermint; it is there to deter insects from eating it and kills people too in pure form (although much more is needed to kill -- about 2 grams). Nicotine is structurally similar to acetycholine and in mammals. In the doses that people consume, it is addictive, of course, but has very little chronic toxicity. And it is actually less acutely toxic than alcohol – about a 1:40 effective to lethal dose compared to at alcohol 1:20. And alcohol is far more chronically toxic than nicotine.

Again there is a good indication that nicotine is not very chronically harmful because users of swedish snus and modern american moist snuff past the 90s are not statistically significantly at risk for any cancer. The risk being either at worst case very low or perhaps non-existent. Most studies show no significant association of cardiovascular disease from smokeless tobacco, as well. But data is limited for cardiovascular outcome and some studies suggest a slight or low negative impact.

The point is basically that nicotine if taken in the wrong dose or wrong form is dangerous, but so are many other things, even water. So what?

By anon163634 — On Mar 28, 2011

Nicotine and Niacin are the same thing. Niacin is needed by our bodies but the preferred way to get it is to eat food containing natural niacin. We possess many nicotine sensors in our brain that require nicotine/niacin/Vitamin B3. They help regulate our thought processes. If a person can't uptake niacin from their food for various reasons, they need to get it some way.

By anon162169 — On Mar 22, 2011

What about farmers of tobacco who never smoked a day in their life, but die of lung cancer? Is it from the pesticides and other crap sprayed on the crops? If so, how come other farmers of other crops like vegetables get lung cancer? Then again, they might and it is just thought be caused by other things than the pesticides.

By anon138427 — On Jan 01, 2011

I bought my safecig about three months ago, and I highly recommend it. I've been smoking for about 10 years and really wanted to quit and well since i got this e-cig i feel great. Can smoke anywhere with no harm to anyone.

By anon129971 — On Nov 26, 2010

Annon3303, do you shill for big tobacco? It seems like you are lobbying people to smoke.

By anon123610 — On Nov 02, 2010

Lots of plants (which we eat) contain natural pesticides. It's just that nicotine gives humans a good feeling. Tomatoes and potatoes contain traces of nicotine. As far as plutonium, radium, uranium, etc. -- all plants absorb those from the soil. Anti tobacco folks comment, as a scare tactic, that these are only found in tobacco. Smoking is bad for you. If you like tobacco (and nic) use smokeless.

By anon117916 — On Oct 12, 2010

If you really, really want to quit smoking, switch to an e-cig. Sure, you are still getting nicotine, but you won't be getting tar and tobacco and all the other 4,000 chemicals that a regular cig has. Plus e-cig's taste so much better.

I've been doing e-cig's for quite a while and quite honestly, it's like a new lease on life. It's nice to be able to smell foods better, to taste foods, to breathe without smokers cough and to not stink like cigarettes.

If you want to get a good e-cig setup, get a Joye eGo or a Joye 510 and start out with at least 30ml of juice.

By anon110117 — On Sep 10, 2010

The American Indians? At that time the average life span was less than 50 years of age. You want to smoke, go ahead, ignore science. The electronic cigarette removes the tobacco and the smoke; it delivers nicotine by vaporizing it.

At this point it is reasonable to assume that electronic nicotine devices provide harm reduction but at this time a full scientific review is needed.

By anon94507 — On Jul 08, 2010

anon33033: Forgoing your obviously extensive knowledge of tobacco and such, you are not a medical professional. You have no authority to say whether or not nicotine has toxicities and to boot, you're wrong. The act of smoking, converting the smoke in your lungs causes cancer, you are right in that all the hundreds of chemicals do as well.

Please do your medical research on the topic before commenting to others who are looking for real answers not (forgive the pun) a bunch of smoke.

By anon89939 — On Jun 13, 2010

Well for one, there is no doubt smoking kills. Extensive coverage of that topic means I don't have to repeat it here.

I do, however, take issue with smokeless tobacco, and more precisely, the difference between american fire cured smokeless tobacco and the swedish style smokeless tobacco known as snus (rhymes with juice) which is steam cured. I have not seen any proof that swedish snus causes tooth loss or gum disease, not to mention cancer.

The nicotine released into the body from this type of delivery system is direct, strong and the way in which smokers can easily quit smoking without the withdrawal symptoms.

American smokeless tobacco (known as chew) is fired cured, causing high levels of carcinogens. So I don't see any evidence that nicotine, delivered by the snus method, causes cancer.

The Finnish government doesn't require manufacturers in Finland to even print warning labels on its packaging.

If someone has any info on this, let me know. But those looking to quit smoking should be given good, clear info that nicotine IS a safe alternative nicotine delivery system (regarding snus only, not chew).

By anon77040 — On Apr 13, 2010

The people on here who leaves those "it hasn't happened to me yet" comments are special. I'm not a doctor and even i know that smoking isn't good for you or your health.

when you smoke, you're smoking tobacco, of course. and tobacco has nicotine or shall i say it, nicotina, and that is an organic pesticide. So really you're smoking something that kills off bugs, which will surely kill you off. No harsh meaning but its true.

So no, it's not crap. This topic really helps you. Smoking can give you lung cancer, other kinds of cancer, and you can lose your jaw. Just go online and look at all the dangerous things that can go wrong if it becomes addicting or affects you a lot.

It gives your kids the the same problems you would have, probably, and don't forget that they do breathe the same air you do breathe.

By anon68429 — On Mar 02, 2010

After reading everyone's comments, I have to agree with anon65475. If you don't get cancer from smoking for years, you'll certainly get COPD, Emphysema, a scratchy voice, leathery skin -- on and on. I've smoked for over 15 years.

I'm realizing that I have not done one activity in my adult life that doesn't involve smoking cigarettes.

Quitting smoking is the hardest thing I've ever done. Cheers and success to all!

By anon65621 — On Feb 15, 2010

Natural tobacco is safer than tobacco with additives. I know from experience. My immune system is three times better after switching to all natural tobacco. Also my lungs are clear. Have you ever noticed the difference in the all natural tobacco smoke compared to the smoke of additive tobacco? Natural tobacco smoke smells fine where as additive tobacco smoke often smells offensive.

Also the natural tobacco smoke comes out of your lungs the way weed smoke does, whereas additive tobacco smoke seems to linger in your lungs, as if it is sticky. Of course, we are better off without smoking anything, but natural is less harmful than additives.

As far as cancer, I believe that our diets enable us to more easily have out of controlled cancer growths, whereas the native americans rarely had serious problems with cancer because their diets were pretty good, without many food additives and whatnot.

For those who truly want to quit smoking but could care less about breaking the nicotine addiction, switch to nicotine gum. If you have the desire to not smoke without dealing with intense cravings, just chew some nicotine gum. Buy the 4 mg. generic mint flavored gum and chew a whole or a half a piece anytime you feel like smoking. You will not be disappointed. You will actually chew less than you would normally smoke because its not as entertaining. You will feel great. It's also a great way to give your body a chance to catch up for a while.

You can chew them for the rest of your life, wing off or go back to smoking, but at least you will have given your body a break for a while.

By anon65475 — On Feb 13, 2010

I started smoking when I was 14, long before anyone realized it was addictive or bad for your health. I just quit smoking - 50 - that's right - 50 years later and let me tell you that a lot of what is being said is B.S. The withdrawals are horrible - you body doesn't withdraw from things that are good for you.

I agree that cigarettes need an ingredient X to cause cancer, such as family history or something we don't know about, because too many people smoked their entire lives and did not get cancer, but there is no way that your lungs are going to function after years of smoking.

COPD is real, it's a pain in the you know what, and smoking does indeed cause it in everyone. The longer your smoke, the worse the withdrawals and difficulty of stopping. Make you life full and rich and young by telling yourself the truth.

Thanks you all.

By anon62220 — On Jan 25, 2010

I am a smoker of marlboro light 100's and I'm trying to find out how much nicotine is one cigarette. Also I have purchased the 510 titan and got the nicotine 18high for they said it was the same as smoking a marlboro light 100. Is this true and also is this dangerous smoking 18high?Please let me know.

By anon56032 — On Dec 11, 2009

I have been on the e Cigs for two weeks and no, nicotine, in small does is not harmful. I love mine and feel more energetic, and better that I am not smoking tobacco, taste is back energy etc etc

By anon51184 — On Nov 03, 2009

To anon33033: So what was the average lifespan of native Americans before those evil vaccines then? It is hard to die of cancer if you don't live long enough for it to kill you. What a bunch of hooey.

By anon33052 — On May 31, 2009


"But maybe smarter people is the problem here, not cancer." So what you're saying is...let's be dumb and smoke?? I'm sold. Going to light up right now.

By anon33033 — On May 31, 2009

I may be wrong, but it looks like Indians in south and north-America have been quite heavy smokers before the conquest. Actually they seem to have "invented" tobacco smoking.

And what they were smoking was strong indigenous tobacco, not the diluted nicotine our cigarettes contain today. By the way nicotine may be addictive, but it has no toxicity even in heavy smoking and actually is quite good for the brain. Indians in all tribes of America knew perfectly what cancer was, they just almost never died of it. That changed the day they started changing their traditional diet and cigars for the sugar, wheat flour and cigarettes the modern world came to offer them (and did I say their vaccines?).

Then they say Indians started dying of cancer in much larger numbers. Interestingly enough those who traditionally smoked the most were the shamans, who either breathed through cigars or drank concentrated tobacco juice in large quantities. Now that was heavy doses and either it killed the aspiring shaman or it made him a real shaman. This is common to all shamans (OK, wrong name, real name curranderos or medicine men) in America. No tobacco, no shamanism. No high concentrated nicotine, no seeing the "other world" (read Castaneda's Don Juan books). Traditional cigars = no cancer. Modern cigarettes with additives = cancer. This is a no brainer folks. And you can cite all the institutes and experts in the world, they have no argument in the Indian case. Nicotine makes people smarter and will never give anyone cancer. Additives will, and they do. But maybe smarter people is the problem here, not cancer.

By anon24923 — On Jan 20, 2009

Concerned about cigarette smoke absorbed in fabric, are there any nicotine dangers if breathed in?

By anon23050 — On Dec 15, 2008

Are the new electronic cigarettes safe? No tobacco or tar in it. Nicotine ranges from 6mg to 18mg. I am told nicotine is not cancer causing.

By anon11446 — On Apr 16, 2008

what products contain nicotine?

By anon6073 — On Dec 14, 2007

this was very helpful to me, and now i understand more about nicotine in order for me to do my reaearch paper :]]

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