Smoking and tobacco

Tobacco is made from the leaves of tobacco plants. It contains nicotine, which is an addictive drug. When you smoke tobacco in cigarettes or other tobacco products (such as cigars cigarillos, pipes, or shisha) you absorb toxic and cancer-causing chemicals that affect your health.

What is tobacco?

Tobacco is made by drying leaves from tobacco plants, and is the main component of cigarettes.

Nicotine is the main chemical in tobacco. It is:

  • toxic
  • highly addictive
  • a stimulant – this means it speeds up the messages that travel between your brain and your body.

Nicotine is a dangerous chemical for a number of reasons. Read more about nicotine.

Nicotine is also found in many e-cigarettes, also known as vapes, even if they are labelled as nicotine-free. Read more about vaping and e-cigarettes.

Did you know?

Tobacco makers add other ingredients to tobacco when they process it for cigarettes, cigars and other products. Some ingredients are added for flavour to make smoking more pleasant. New legislation that takes effect from 1 April 2024 will prohibit these ingredients

Read about additives in cigarettes.

What is smoking?

When people smoke tobacco, they burn it so they can breathe it in or taste the smoke.

People smoke tobacco in different ways.


Tobacco wrapped in a roll of paper. You can buy cigarettes ready-made or you can roll your own. When you smoke a cigarette, you breathe in the smoke.


Tobacco wrapped in a tobacco leaf or the leaf of another plant.


Loose-leaf tobacco smoked in a pipe.

Waterpipes or shisha

A device used to smoke tobacco, consisting of a base filled with water, a tube, and a bowl where you burn tobacco. When you inhale through the tube, the smoke from the burning tobacco passes through the water in the base first. Then it enters your mouth and lungs.

Smoking affects your health

Tobacco smoking is the largest preventable cause of death and disease in Australia. It:

Did you know?

You can also chew, suck, dissolve or inhale tobacco through the mouth or nose. These are often known as chewing tobacco, oral tobacco, snuff or snus. It's illegal to commercially import or sell these products in Australia.

Why people take up smoking

Most people take up smoking as a teenager, and there are many reasons for this.

  • They may be influenced by the people around them who smoke (for example, their family and friends).
  • They may also be exposed to messages and images, such as those in movies, that may persuade them to start or continue smoking or using other tobacco products.

Find out more about why people take up smoking.

From 1 April 2024, the Public Health (Tobacco and Other Products) Act 2023 will further restrict the use of messages and images that may lead to tobacco use.


Did you know?

Research has shown that over time, tobacco companies have made cigarettes:

  • more addictive by increasing nicotine levels and enhancing its impact when inhaled
  • more attractive to children and young people by adding flavourings, menthol and other chemicals and introducing new features, such as crush balls.

Many people find it hard to quit tobacco smoking, and one of the reasons for this is because nicotine is so addictive. Research shows that:

  • if you start smoking as a teenager, you are more likely to become a life-long smoker compared to those who start as an adult
  • over 2/3 of people who try one cigarette become (even temporarily) daily smokers.

Quitting is hard, but support is available and you will feel the benefits of quitting almost straight away as your body repairs itself. Find out more about quitting smoking.

Chemicals in tobacco smoke

Tobacco smoke contains many chemicals that are harmful to smokers and non-smokers. Breathing even small amounts of tobacco smoke can be harmful.

Of the more than 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, over 100 are known to be harmful, including hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide, and ammonia.

Among the known harmful poisons in tobacco smoke, at least 69 can cause cancer. Find out more about how smoking affects your health.


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