Cigarettes (Nicotine)

By Penelope Brewer

Slang Terms

Some slang terms for cigarettes include cancer stick, sweet cancer, coffin nail, cig, ciggies, stogie, chew, chaw, smoke, and dip.

What is Nicotine?

Nicotine is a toxic substance and a major ingredient in tobacco. It acts as a stimulant in small doses, but in larger doses it can block the actions of nerves and skeletal muscle cells.


The most common form of nicotine ingestion is smoking cigarettes, where nicotine enters the body, is distributed through the bloodstream and crosses the blood-brain barrier to the brain within 10-20 seconds. The increased levels of dopamine in the brain contribute to the effects of relaxation and addiction caused by nicotine consumption.

Nicotine Poisoning

The estimated lower limit of a lethal dose of nicotine is 500-1000 mg. Children may become ill after smoking just one cigarette, and severely ill if more is ingested. Initial symptoms include nausea and vomiting, excessive salivation, abdominal pain, tremor, headache, dizziness, sweating, and seizures. Long-term symptoms include hypotension, bradycardia, central nervous system depression, coma, and paralysis with difficulty breathing or respiratory failure.


Nicotine produces physical and psychological effects in your brain that can make you temporarily happy. These effects can make you want to use more tobacco and lead to nicotine dependence – an addiction to tobacco products caused by the drug nicotine, which means you can't stop using the drug even if it's harming you. Withdrawal from tobacco usually causes symptoms such as irritability and anxiety.

Signs of a Smoker

Usually a person that smokes will have nicotine-stained teeth and fingers, the smell of smoke on their clothes or in their house, the "smoker's cough," and gravelly voice. However, new smokers don't always show these symptoms, and many people – especially teens – will try to hide their smoking habit from family and friends.