How many kids will begin a lifetime of tobacco addiction before we understand that we as parents and grandparents must play a larger role in prevention? The tobacco industry is trying very hard to make tobacco use look very attractive and cool to our young people. They use magazines, movies, sports, and even the Internet to get kids to think that tobacco is the thing to do.

In an effort to combat these glamourous images, here are some hard facts you and your kids should know about tobacco use.

Just the Facts, Ma'am

Tobacco is a drug, as addictive as cocaine and heroin. Nicotine is a poison that kills bugs that try to eat the tobacco plant. One or two drops of liquid nicotine will kill a person.

Tar is a sticky, dark brown chemical. When a person smokes, inhaled tars stay in the lungs, and will cause a person to cough trying to get it out of the lungs. If you smoke a pack of cigarettes a day for a year you would have inhaled about a quart of tar and the body will cough or get rid of all but about a half a cup a year. The rest will remain in the lungs to cause lung problems in the future.

Emphysema or COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) may be the result of the tars left in the lungs. In emphysema the lungs become enlarged and hard, making breathing very difficult. Lungs become so large there is not enough room in the chest cavity for the lungs to expand to take in oxygen or to expel the carbon dioxide. A person will suffocate and die with high carbon dioxide levels.

Carbon monoxide is another poisonous gas found in tobacco smoke. In large amounts it can make people sick or even kill them. Heart disease and cancer is also a result of smoking.

What About Alternatives to Cigarettes?

Some youth might ask if cigars and chewing tobacco are safe alternatives to cigarettes. No.

Cigars can have up to 70 times more nicotine than cigarettes, and 30 times more carbon monoxide than cigarette smoke. Even if you just hold an unlit cigar in your mouth, the chemicals get into your body. Cigar and pipe smokers have more lip and mouth cancer than people who don't smoke.

Smokeless tobacco is a mixture of tobacco, sugar, salt, flavoring agents, abrasives, and hundreds of chemicals. Among these chemicals are 28 known carcinogens (cancer-causing agents). A few of the carcinogens found in smokeless tobacco include formaldehyde (embalming fluid), polonium-210 (nuclear waste), and nitrosamines. Smokeless tobacco also contains nicotine, the same addictive drug in cigarettes.

Snuff dippers consume on average more than 10 times the amount of cancer causing substances (nitrosamines) than cigarettes smokers. In fact, some brands of smokeless tobacco contain more than the legal limit of nitrosamines permitted in certain foods and consumer products, such as beer and bacon. The juice from the smokeless tobacco is absorbed directly through the lining of the mouth. This can create sores and white patches which often lead to oral cancer.

Other consequences of smokeless tobacco use include halitosis (chronic bad breath), discoloration of teeth and fillings, gum disease, and tooth loss. Smokeless tobacco users may also smoke cigarettes that make the risks of developing cancer higher.

The Leading Users & Pregnant Women

Unfortunately, young men ages 17-19 are the leading age group in smokeless tobacco use. Peer pressure is perhaps the primary reason that many of them start using tobacco. Tobacco use may lead to many other unsafe habits.

The amount of nicotine in smokeless tobacco can be equal to or even greater than that in cigarettes. A user who takes 8 to 10 dips or chews a day is getting the same amount of nicotine as someone who smokes 30 to 40 cigarettes a day; one can of snuff is capable of delivering as much nicotine as 60 cigarettes.