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Cigarettes and smoking

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Smoking causes over 80% of all drug related deaths in Australia, far more than alcohol or illicit drugs! Did you know that 80% of young people who smoke regularly continue to smoke as adults? Nearly half of smokers under 30 started smoking by the age of 15.

Cigarette advertising in Australia has been banned, but if you watch closely, more actors in movies and television programs are shown smoking (it's called 'product placement').

Everyone knows the risks of smoking, but people are still starting to smoke, and continuing to smoke. So, why do they do it??

You might like to look at 'Can I kick it?' from SA Health, Heart Foundation, Cancer Council SA and Quit SA. 

Why people smoke cigarettes

Many people say that smoking makes them more alert and improves their concentration, while others believe that smoking calms them down, especially when they are feeling anxious or stressed. 

Scientists believe this is because the chemicals in the cigarette (especially nicotine) have reduced the withdrawal symptoms that smokers get between one cigarette and the next. Smokers are 'addicted' to smoking!

Smoking is addictive

Tobacco is more addictive than heroin or cocaine. Smokers become addicted to smoking in three different ways.

  1. People who smoke out of habit find they smoke more at certain times or in certain situations. This includes smoking when they are talking on the phone, after eating, with coffee, with alcohol, or when sitting around with friends. These people automatically smoke when they are doing certain things, without really being aware of any real 'craving' for a cigarette.
  2. Other people smoke more when they are under a lot of stress, or if they are angry, depressed, bored, or even when they are happy. Their urge to smoke is triggered by their feelings, and their need for an 'emotional boost'.
  3. Most smokers find it hard to stop smoking because they are physically addicted to the nicotine in cigarette smoke. Nicotine addiction begins as soon as people start to smoke regularly.

People who tend to smoke around other people, often when drinking alcohol, consider themselves 'social smokers'. Social smokers often believe they are safer than regular smokers because they smoke less often. But don’t be fooled into thinking you are 'not a real smoker'. Social smokers are at risk of all the dangers too.

It is possible to be addicted to smoking in any or all of the ways described above. The longer you have been smoking, and the more cigarettes you smoke a day, the harder it is to give them up.

Why young people start smoking

Most people begin smoking when they are teenagers and go on to become regular smokers as adults.

Why do young people start smoking when there is so much information available about the damage smoking does to the body?

  • It has been suggested that young people are attracted to the 'image' they associate with smoking. The tobacco industry has created an image of smoking as being tough, cool, sophisticated, sexy, attractive or a form of rebellion. Although nicotine addiction keeps people smoking, young people usually start smoking because of the social image they want to present to others.
  • Young people are also more likely to start smoking if their friends or family are smokers.
  • In some cultures, smoking is still widely accepted.

Why should you give up smoking?

Apart from the health risks, smoking is not seen as 'cool' any more. Its banned in so many places these days, that it can be hard to hang out with your friends.

  • Smoking is very likely to kill you!!!
  • Smoking makes your hair and clothes smell and your breath smell. Smokers get so used to the smell of stale tobacco smoke on their hair, clothes and breath, that they don't notice it anymore. But others do!
  • Smoking turns your teeth and fingers yellow, and affects your skin and complexion.
  • Smoking affects your sense of taste and smell, making both of them less sensitive.
  • Smoking can really harm your body! It is the most common cause of cancers of the lungs, throat and mouth.
  • Smoking makes you about 10 times more likely to die early from a major stroke or heart attack.
  • Smokers suffer more frequently from severe bronchitis and emphysema (a disease where the chemicals in tobacco smoke severely damage the lining of the lungs, and make it difficult to breathe).
  • Smoking increases the risk of developing diabetes.
  • You don't have to have bronchitis or emphysema for smoking to effect your breathing. Try swimming a few laps of a pool, playing a game of footy or netball or do an aerobic class as a smoker. Breathing while exercising the heart and lungs is a lot tougher if you're a smoker.
  • Smoking damages small blood vessels, and restricts blood flow to the hands and feet, can lead to gangrene and even the amputation of limbs.


lung4c.jpg (16239 bytes)
From one lung to another


Smoking harms unborn babies and young children.

  • In South Australia it is illegal to smoke in a car with children as passengers.
  • Female smokers have more trouble falling pregnant than non-smokers
  • They have more miscarriages during pregnancies.
  • When they do get pregnant the smoke can harm the baby - often the baby is smaller than expected at birth.
  • To help prevent SIDS, babies need to be kept away from cigarette smoke during pregnancy and for the first year of life.
  • Smoking in the same house or car with children means they breathe in the smoke as well (passive smoking). These children get more colds, ear infections and chest problems such as asthma, if they live with a smoker.
  • Male smokers also have a lower sperm count and more abnormal sperm than non-smokers.

The good news is that, if smokers quit smoking, the body repairs itself quite quickly.

  • Nicotine leaves the body in just two hours, and another deadly chemical, carbon monoxide, leaves the blood stream after only twelve hours.
  • Nicotine by-products are gone within two days.
  • Within two months, the blood flow to the arms and legs improves, and the lungs begin to repair themselves in about three months.
  • Your sense of taste and smell improves, your skin will lose the 'grey' look that smokers get, and your body will be free of that stale tobacco smell.
  • Your chance of getting heart disease and cancer begins to fall.

Another good reason for giving up smoking is the amount of money you save.  Smoking is expensive. Count up how much money it costs in a year. That amount of money could pay for an overseas holiday, or buy a great sounding stereo system!

What if I just cut down on smoking?

There is no 'safe' level of smoking, and the reality is that 'cutting down' just doesn't work! It has been proven that, when people reduce the number of cigarettes they smoke, they take more 'drags' from each cigarette. They also take the smoke deeper into their lungs, and hold it in their lungs for a longer period of time. This means they just end up soaking up the same amount of nicotine and other chemicals from fewer cigarettes.

The same thing happens when people switch to cigarettes with a lower tar  and nicotine content (so-called 'light' cigarettes). People usually do the same things described above, or actually end up smoking more cigarettes!

Also, research on 'light' cigarette smokers has:

  • Not shown any reduction in smoking-related health risks,
  • Not shown that people are more likely to quit,
  • Shown that smokers are exposed to at least as much nicotine, carbon monoxide or tar,
  • Shown that they still get as much heart disease and lung cancer.

Research has also shown that young people do not know this, and many think that they will be healthier if they smoke light cigarettes. This is not true. Light cigarettes will also be just as likely to make a smoker addicted.

How can I give up smoking?

No-one is pretending that giving up smoking will be easy, especially if you have been smoking regularly for a long time. You will probably have to deal with cravings to smoke triggered by habit and certain feelings (such as feeling stressed) as well as the addiction to nicotine itself. However, people are giving up smoking every day, and you can do it too!

Have a look at the QUIT website 'Ways to quit'

  • It is a good idea to prepare yourself for such a big change in your life a few days in advance.
  • Get hold of information about quitting from an organisation such as QUIT SA, and you could even make contact with a counsellor who knows how hard it is to quit, and who you can ring for advice and support. 
  • Choose the day when you plan to quit, and make sure you get rid of all your cigarettes the night before.
  • You can also tell your friends and family that you will be trying to give up smoking on a certain day, and begin to plan things you can do to avoid giving into the cravings you are bound to feel for the first few days.
  • It is important to realise that every craving for a cigarette only lasts for about 3-5 minutes, and that if you can avoid smoking each time you get the urge, the craving will just fade away.
  • Avoid, or have strategies ready for, situations that create cravings for you, such as:
    • when socialising - many people associate smoking with socialising, that it also often involves alcohol or other drugs
    • being at work - a study from Canada showed that teens who work are more likely to smoke
    • being with certain people who might smoke.

The 4 'Ds'

QUIT, the Australian anti smoking organisation, suggests that you use the 4 'Ds' every time you feel the urge to smoke.

  1. Most important of all is to 'Delay acting on the urge to smoke' until the craving has passed.
  2. 'Deep breathing' will help to calm you down if you are feeling stressed or anxious, and will give you something to think about other than the need for a cigarette. (Check out the topic Stress and relaxation for some more tips).
  3. 'Drinking water' will freshen your mouth, and, if you sip it slowly, will give you something to do until the craving has passed.
  4. 'Do something else', anything at all which will distract you and keep you from reaching for that cigarette but avoid over eating as the substitute. Research has shown that brisk exercise, like a walk for even five minutes, significantly reduces cravings.

While you are trying to give up smoking, it will help if you keep away from other people smoking, or smoky places, especially pubs, bars and clubs. People often find it harder to resist smoking if they have been drinking alcohol.

It is also a good idea to have a plan to help you avoid times when you smoke out of habit. You could try going for a walk immediately after eating, or using the phone in another room where you don't normally smoke, anything to help break the old habit of smoking in certain situations.

Giving up smoking is not easy, and not everybody manages to quit on their first try. It seems that most people actually take a few tries before they manage to quit for good, and that it gets easier each time. Sometimes there can be relapses, say, if you're at a party you may have a cigarette or two.

Don't be too hard on yourself - accept this as an example of how hard it is to give up - not as an example of failure! Stop smoking again after the party or next day.

What about withdrawal symptoms?

  • You may find that you feel pretty bad for a while when you first give up smoking, because your body is 'withdrawing' from its addiction to nicotine. When high levels of chemicals in the blood are suddenly removed, the body sets up a whole load of physical symptoms, demanding that the chemicals be replaced. This is the same type of reaction that heroin addicts or alcoholics get.
  • You may find that you begin to cough more. This is because your lungs are attempting to clean out the muck that has built up in them over time.
  • It is also fairly common to get either constipation or diarrhoea for a few days and other digestive problems as the body tries to get used to the lack of nicotine in your system.
  • You might also find yourself suffering from headaches, mood swings, tiredness and getting cranky, or feel dizzy or light headed.
  • It is important to remember that not everybody suffers from all of these problems, and that they are only temporary. The longer your body goes without nicotine, the milder any withdrawal symptoms will get.

Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT)

  • NRT includes things like patches, gum, lozenges, inhalers and tablets.
  • When someone is addicted to cigarettes or tobacco they are actually physically addicted to nicotine. Nicotine does not cause the harmful effects of smoking such as lung cancer, but it is the addictive part of tobacco.
  • NRT provides some nicotine to the body to help reduce the cravings, so people can focus on the other challenges of quitting, such as social aspects or peer pressure. Check with a Quitline counsellor, a doctor, or pharmacist to see if you can use NRT.
  • It is not a good idea to use patches during pregnancy, but using the gum is better than smoking if you don't continue smoking while also using the gum!


A lot of people worry that they will put on weight if they give up smoking.

The truth is that not all ex-smokers put on weight, and those who do usually only gain a kilo or two. This weight gain is usually only temporary, and a small weight gain is less harmful than continuing to smoke.

If you are concerned about any possible increase in weight, try to eat healthy foods and enjoy physical activity regularly while you are trying to quit smoking (see the topic Exercise). This will help improve your overall health, and remind you that you are doing positive things for your body.

Can I help someone else to give up smoking?

The main thing you can do to help someone who is trying to quit smoking is to offer plenty of support and encouragement. Try to be understanding if they are irritable or bad tempered, or feeling sick.

People will only be able to give up smoking if they want to do it for themselves. Even if you are really worried about their smoking, they will not be able to give up just because you want them to. Nagging is probably the worst thing you can do! The smoker is just likely to get defensive, and may become more determined to keep smoking!

  • You could help by planning to see them in places where smoking is not allowed.
  • Help them make their house smoke free.
  • Congratulate them when they manage not to smoke.
  • Encourage them to try again if they do have a cigarette. They must not see themselves as failures if they are not able to control their urge to smoke all the time.
  • If you are a smoker, do not smoke when you are around that person.

What does the law say?

Depending on where you live there are different laws about smoking. You need to check the law where you live.

In South Australia

There are a whole range of Federal and State laws relating to smoking in South Australia.

See Tobacco Laws South Australia 

  • Cigarette advertising is banned in all forms of the media, and most sporting events (including team sponsorship)
  • From 1 January 2012 the display of tobacco products is prohibited in retail outlets. Tobacco products must not be visible from anywhere inside or outside a retail outlet.
  • The law also requires that Health Warnings appear on the packaging of all tobacco products, and states the size of the warnings and what information they have to include, and cigarettes must not be advertised at places where they are sold.
  • Smoking has been banned in most workplaces and public places such as shopping malls, and cinemas. It is increasingly being banned in more places.
  • It is illegal to smoke in a car with children as passengers.

It is illegal for retailers to sell tobacco products to anyone who is under 18 years of age. Cigarette vending machines have also been banned everywhere except hotels and other licensed venues.

New smoke-free law in South Australia

Changes to the Tobacco Products Regulation Act 1997 mean that from 31 May 2012

  • Smoking is banned within 10 metres of children's public playground equipment.
  • Smoking is banned under covered public transport waiting areas, including bus, tram, train and taxi shelters and other areas used to board or alight from public transport that are covered by a roof.
  • Local councils and other incorporated bodies can apply to have an outdoor area or event declared smoke-free.
  • The age that a person can be fined for smoking-related offences has been reduced to 15 years.

For more information about the purpose of this law, who will enforce it and what the fines will be, have a look at this information from the Deaprtment of Health, South Australia: 


South Australia



Information in languages other than English

Posters in many languages have been made for the Australian National Tobacco Campaign 2011. They are listed under the heading referring to advertisements on this page  


QUIT SA Information sheets

QUIT SA 'Smoking cessation guidelines - for Australian General Practice'

Kropp R & Halpern-Felsher B.  Pediatrics, Oct 2004; 114: e445 - 451.
Adolescents’ Beliefs About the Risks Involved in Smoking "Light" Cigarettes

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Youth Healthline on 1300 13 17 19 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).
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