Is tobacco addictive?

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), all tobacco products are highly addictive because they contain nicotine, a chemical compound found in tobacco plants.

That means even “natural” cigarettes marketed as being free of additives or using organically grown tobacco are still addictive because nicotine is within the plants themselves. Other nicotine-rich tobacco products include cigarettes, chewing tobacco, dip, snus, snuff, cigars, pipe tobacco, and most e-cigarettes.

The FDA notes that nicotine changes the way the brain works, kicking off an addiction response by driving the release of dopamine, a chemical that signals pleasure. When tobacco is discontinued, this causes a sharp drop in dopamine, causing the brain to crave more tobacco to bring those levels back up.

It doesn’t take years or even days for this shift to happen—nicotine is delivered to the brain within seconds, starting the process of addiction.

For younger smokers, the effects can be even more profound, since nicotine is harmful to developing brains. Tobacco use during adolescence can disrupt the way brain circuits are formed, setting up young people for difficulties with learning and attention, as well as lifelong susceptibility to addiction.

In addition to nicotine, tobacco products often contain thousands of other chemicals, in a mix designed to increase the addictive effect. For example, the FDA points out that cigarettes deliver more than 7,000 chemicals, and these are what cause serious health effects like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, and cancer.

Another aspect of tobacco addiction is behavioral changes caused by using these products. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that tobacco users create routines around their addiction—for example, having a cigarette as part of a work break, or after finishing a meal. Many people also use tobacco to cope with stress and anxiety, and they end up associating feelings of relaxation with tobacco use.

That’s why quitting tobacco must address the addiction on several levels, not just the physical withdrawal.

Fortunately, this can be done with the EX Program, an enterprise solution for tobacco addiction offered by employers and health plans to their employees and members.

Looking to quit tobacco and unsure if your company or health plan offers the EX Program to you for free? Visit EX and enter your employer or health plan when you register to see if you’re eligible.

Human Resources Today