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Why Are Cigarettes Considered A Drug?

Published: December 19, 2013
Dear TeenHealthFX,
why are the cigarettes considered a drug a substance that causes a change in body function?
Signed: Why Are Cigarettes Considered A Drug?

Dear Why Are Cigarettes Considered A Drug?,


Cigarettes are considered to be a drug based on the definition of a drug by various sources. The Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act defines drugs, in part, by their intended use, as “articles in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation treatment, or prevention of a disease” and “articles (other than food) intended to affect the structure of any function of the body of man or other animals.”


The American Heritage Science Dictionary cites a drug as a chemical substance, such as a narcotic or hallucinogen that affects the central nervous system and is used recreationally for perceived desirable effects on the personality, perception, or behavior. Included in the definition is a note that many recreational drugs are used illicitly and can be addictive.


If we look at these definitions and the impact cigarettes can have on people, cigarettes definitely fall into the category of being drugs. They do affect the function of the body, including the central nervous system. People may perceive that cigarettes help them to feel calmer or less stressed out. And while cigarette use is not illegal for those over 18, it is illegal for minors and nicotine is certainly extremely addictive.



As for your specific question of how cigarettes cause a change in body function. Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body, causing many diseases and reducing the health of smokers in general. Cigarette smoking affects brain functioning. Studies involving PET imaging of the brains of smokers have shown that certain regions of the brain were 20-30% less active, such as the areas involved in memory, emotion, and pleasure. In addition, cigarette smoking significantly limits blood flow to every organ in the body, including the skin and brain. Blood brings oxygen, sugar, vitamins, and other nutrients to the brain and takes away carbon dioxide and other toxic waste products. So this limit of blood flow will prematurely age the brain, as well as other organs in the body. The skin is considered to be an organ, and cigarette smoking prematurely ages this organ, causing smokers to be deeply wrinkled and even possibly tinged with a yellow or gray color.


The CDC lists the following additional facts about the effect of smoking on the body:



  • The risk of dying from lung cancer is more than 22 times higher among men who smoke cigarettes and about 12 times high among women who smoke cigarettes compared with never smokers.
  • Cigarette smoking increases the risk for many types of cancer, including cancers of the lip, oral cavity, pharynx, esophagus, pancreas, larynx (voice box), lung, uterine cervix, urinary bladder, and kidney.


Heart Disease and Stroke

  • Smoking causes coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S. Cigarette smokers are 2-4 times more likely to develop coronary heart disease than nonsmokers.
  • Cigarette smoking approximately doubles a person’s risk for stroke.
  • Cigarette smoking causes reduced circulation by narrowing the blood vessels (arteries). Smokers are more than 10 times as likely as nonsmokers to develop peripheral vascular disease.
  • Smoking causes abdominal aortic aneurysm.


Respiratory Health

  • Cigarette smoking is associated with a tenfold increase in the risk of dying from chronic obstructive lung disease.
  • About 90% of all deaths from chronic obstructive lung disease are attributed to cigarette smoking.


Smoking During Pregnancy

Research has shown that smoking during pregnancy causes health problems for both mothers and babies, such as:

  • Pregnancy complications
  • Premature birth
  • Low-birth-weight infants
  • Still birth
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)


Research has clearly proven that smoking is an addictive behavior that can negatively impact the functioning of many aspects of the body. Whether it is the brain, heart, lungs, or skin, or it is the ability to carry and deliver a baby in a healthy way – there are so many ways in which we can destroy our body’s ability to do what it needs to do through cigarettes.


If you have any more questions about smoking and the impact of cigarettes on the body, speak with you doctor, school nurse, health teacher, or have your parents or any other trusted adult get you the information you want on the hazards and effects of smoking.



For more information you can contact the following:

  • American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345. The ACS offers information on local cessation programs and provides smoking cessation literature.
  • National Cancer Institute at 1-800-422-6237. The National Cancer Institute provides literature on smoking cessation. While they provide individuals to go over the literature with callers, they are not trained counselors.
Signed: TeenHealthFX