Key things to know

It’s usually smoked in cigarettes but can also be vaped in e-cigarettes, chewed as chewing tobacco or inhaled as snuff.

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Cigarettes cause the most physical damage when people use them regularly over a long period of time.

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Consider using nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) like patches, gum and lozenges if you want to cut down.

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Consider vaping instead. Vapes are less harmful and allow you to control the amount of nicotine you use.

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How does tobacco make you feel?

Smoking does not produce strong effects like alcohol or other drugs, but it can cause a lightheaded sensation that some people find pleasant. It can also make people feel relaxed, happy or giddy and gives a small adrenaline rush. If smoking becomes more regular, a person can develop tolerance and will need to smoke more to get the same effect. They may also feel stronger cravings and urges to smoke. It is the nicotine that causes the cravings, but people may also like the social aspects of smoking.

People often use tobacco products at the same time as other drugs and may find they want to smoke more when drinking alcohol or smoking cannabis.

A Reddit user talks about their experience with tobacco:

“Most people begin smoking together as teenagers and begin to associate positive experiences with smoking cigarettes. I personally loved smoking and inhaling the smoke and blowing it out. It smells horrible though to most people and it messes up your lungs.”

Pleasant effects

Unpleasant effects

Calm or relaxed

Feeling sociable

Giddy

Happy

Experiencing pleasant ‘head rush’

Increased concentration

Reduced feelings of agitation or irritability

Bad taste in your mouth

Burning sensation in your throat

Cold or clammy skin

Coughing 

Dizzy 

Mouth sores

Nauseous 

Pleasant effects

Unpleasant effects

Reduced hunger cravings

Decreased stress

Mild euphoria

 

Not feeling hungry

Increased coughing

Headaches

Gagging

Feeling very nauseous 

Feeling very dizzy 

Lack of coordination

Breathless and wheezy 

Sore or tight chest

Pleasant effects

Unpleasant effects

 

Severe or ongoing cough

Stomach-aches

Vomiting

Worsening asthma or asthma attacks

Severe dizziness or feeling faint

Difficulty breathing normally

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How can you be safer when using tobacco?

Tobacco causes the most physical damage when people use it regularly, but it can affect everyone differently. It is always a good idea to consider the things you can do to be safer if you are using tobacco. 

Try using less. 
Tobacco causes the most physical damage when people who use it regularly over a long period of time. If you smoke daily, even cutting down a small amount can reduce some of these effects. If you smoke less often or socially, consider trying to put limits on when you smoke and how much to cut down on your use.

Avoid mixing cannabis and tobacco.
If you are smoking cannabis, try to avoid mixing it with tobacco (spliff, spin or chop) as the nicotine in tobacco can make it more addictive. If you are using both, consider alternating between them instead of using at the same time. 

If you want to cut down, consider using nicotine patches, gums and lozenges. 
Some people believe that switching from smoking tobacco to chewing it or smoking in a pipe can make it safer. However, the harm from tobacco use is very similar no matter how you use. Instead, you may want to consider using nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) such as patches, gums or lozenges. NRT delivers nicotine to your body which can help reduce the cravings for tobacco and make it easier to cut down on how much you use. 

Consider vaping to help you quit using tobacco. 
Vapes do not contain tobacco. However, they can contain nicotine and are sometimes used to help people stop smoking. If you are vaping, consider choosing closed-system vapes (like vape pens) as they tend to have fewer negative effects because they do not have to clean the coils and you can't mix potentially harmful substances into the liquid. There are many vapes available in New Zealand, and they are all different. There is support to help you make decisions about vaping on the Vaping Facts website. 

For more information on how to be safer when using drugs and alcohol, see Safer using

To order self-help workbooks and other free resources for safer use, see Resources.

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What happens if you have too much tobacco?

Unlike alcohol or other drugs, tobacco is not likely to give you a bad trip. Most issues that come from using tobacco products occur after you have used it for a while, although you can develop nicotine poisoning from using too much tobacco. This is rare in adults but more common in children and young people as they tend to be smaller in size.

Here are some things that may occur if you smoke too much too quickly, use for a long time or get nicotine poisoning:

You might have a cough, feel irritable or agitated, have a sore throat or headaches, feel dizzy, faint, tired, breathless or nauseous.

Try:

  • Focus on breathing – try taking slow, deep breaths.
  • If you are able, call and talk to somebody you trust and ask them to help keep you calm.
  • Do not use more tobacco, caffeine, alcohol or other drugs, as these can make you feel worse.
  • Move to somewhere quiet – try to sit or lie down and do something relaxing.
  • Drink water to stay hydrated.

If you have an ongoing or severe cough, have a sore or tight chest, vomit, feel severely tired or your asthma gets worse, call a doctor or Healthline (0800 611 116). You may be developing problems from smoking such as inflammation of the airways (bronchitis). They can talk you through the next steps.

If you experience severe hearing and vision changes, vomit severely, experience chest pain, have difficulty breathing, have severe heart palpitations or an irregular heartbeat or lose consciousness, call 111.

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What do comedowns from tobacco feel like, and how can you feel better?

Tobacco does not have comedowns in the same way that other drugs do, but if you smoke often, you may feel unwell when the effects of your last cigarette wear off.

If you:

  • Have cravings to use tobacco
  • Have difficulty concentrating or thinking
  • Feel irritable or agitated
  • Feel restless or unsettled
  • Have difficulty sleeping
  • Feel anxious
  • Feel dizzy or faint

Then try:

  • Get plenty of rest and sleep
  • Remember to eat and drink plenty of water
  • Get moving to release feel-good brain chemicals
  • Reach out and talk with friends and whānau for support
  • Relax and do things that you enjoy to take your mind off not feeling well
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol and other drugs
  • Practise mindfulness and deep breathing, and try writing down your thoughts and feelings

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What are the long-term effects of using tobacco?

Using tobacco long term can cause a number of health problems.

This is not a complete list, as long-term use of tobacco can cause problems in many areas of the body. Half of all long-term smokers will die from a disease related to smoking, some of which are listed below. Secondhand smoke can also lead to developing some of the conditions listed.

Mild

  • Decreased hunger
  • Early ageing and skin wrinkles
  • Changes in weight
  • Yellow fingers and nails
  • Yellow eyes
  • Yellow teeth
  • Irregular menstruation (women)
  • Slow healing of wounds
  • Back pain
  • Chronic coughing

Moderate

  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Mouth sores
  • Worsening asthma symptoms
  • Fungal infections
  • High blood pressure
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Inflammation of airways and chronic bronchitis
  • Early menopause (women)
  • Hearing loss
  • Lowered fertility
  • Cataracts in eyes
  • Osteoporosis
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Miscarriages

Serious

  • Reduced blood flow around the body (can result in gangrene and damage to parts of the body especially skin, fingers, toes and limbs)
  • Emphysema
  • Diabetes complications
  • Blood clots
  • Mouth and throat cancers
  • Bladder cancer
  • Stomach cancer
  • Heart issues (attacks, artery blockages, disease)
  • Cervical cancer
  • Lung cancer and lung diseases
  • Strokes
  • Blood and bone cancer


Smoking can affect your baby if you smoke while pregnant. It can cause miscarriages, premature (early) birth, low birth weight, birth defects of the mouth and lip and increased risk of SUDI (sudden unexplained death in infancy) after birth. It is not recommended to smoke while pregnant or around your baby.

Chewing tobacco, snuff (snorting tobacco) and vape (heat not burn) products carry different risks. Chewing tobacco and snuff make you more likely to develop diseases of the mouth and nose. Smokeless tobacco products may have slightly lower risks than smoked tobacco. However, all forms of tobacco carry a high risk of harm to your body.

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How do you manage withdrawal from tobacco?

See the 'Making changes' page for more information on how to Manage withdrawal from drugs and alcohol.

If you:

  • Have cravings to use tobacco
  • Experience mild weight gain
  • Feel irritable, agitated, anxious, low or restless
  • Have a cough or mild cold symptoms, such as a stuffy nose
  • Have difficulty concentrating or thinking
  • Feel sweaty or very hot
  • Have headaches, stomache-aches, diarrhoea or constipation
  • Have tingles or numbness in hands and feet
  • Have difficulty sleeping
  • Feel dizzy

Try these things at home:

  • Follow a tapering plan from a health professional to reduce your smoking slowly.
  • Consider counselling or support groups if feelings of anxiety and depression are getting worse.
  • Lean on a support network of friends, family and professionals.
  • Stick to a routine – waking up, eating well, keeping active and rewarding yourself with things that bring you joy.
  • Practise mindfulness by writing down your feelings, doing breathing exercises or meditating.

If your symptoms get worse or aren't improving, call a doctor, Healthline (0800 611 116) or Quitline (0800 778 778).

If you are still not feeling well, you could:

  • talk to your doctor about options to help you get through withdrawal
  • talk to a support service for advice and tips to help get you through withdrawal – visit Health Point to see what services are available in your area.

If you faint, call 111.

If you are using large amounts of nicotine replacements like patches, gums or sprays or if you are vaping nicotine, you should also be aware of these signs of nicotine poisoning when withdrawing:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • A severely slowed heartrate
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures

If you're experiencing these symptoms, call 111. This can be serious. You or the people around you should act quickly.

 For more information on getting support for drug and alcohol use, see Finding support.

A Reddit user talks about their experience of quitting smoking:

“My sinuses sometimes start hurting as-well as a headache in general (comes and goes), it also feels like there is a drip at the back of my throat? Not sure how to explain it, sort of like I’m hacking up mucus or something? I’ve become a lot more irritated and feel quite on edge (bouncing my leg up and down etc).”

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How can tobacco affect your daily life?

Although tobacco is addictive, it is not likely to have major impacts on how you function in your daily life. Unlike alcohol or other drugs, your ability to work, drive or do tasks using your hands (fine motor skills) are not likely to be impaired. If you have used lots of tobacco in a short period of time, it may make you feel nauseous or dizzy. If this happens, try to take a break before returning to work or other activities.

Over a long period, it may affect your ability to work and interact with others. Some of these changes may be more noticeable than others. You may find yourself having cravings throughout the day or wanting to leave to have a smoke.

If you smoke tobacco, will it show up on a drug test?

Tobacco use is legal in New Zealand, so it is unlikely you will have to take a test for work or legal reasons. The most common reasons people are tested for tobacco is by request of a doctor or by an insurance company. If tobacco is tested for, nicotine can be detected for 3–4 days in urine or 1–10 days in blood.

A potential employer or landlord can ask if you smoke and can refuse to give you a job or rent a house based on this. This is not considered discrimination under the Human Rights Act. Smoking is also allowed to be banned in a workplace, bar, hospital or prison.

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Is tobacco legal?

Tobacco is legal to buy and use in New Zealand if you are over the age of 18. You can sell and buy tobacco seeds, but you can’t sell tobacco to others. New Zealand law allows for you to grow tobacco plants for personal use.

It is illegal to supply tobacco products to people under 18.

Smoking is banned in certain public areas such as workplaces, restaurants or hospitals. If you are caught smoking in a smokefree area, you can receive a warning or an infringement notice and a fine. You can also be fined for smoking while someone under 18 is in the car.

To find out more about the law around legal and controlled drugs, including tobacco see Drugs and the law.