Charlie Fethney and Jack Horswell

Nicotine - the addictive substance in cigarette smoke; it affects the brain and other parts of the nervous system, as well as the cardiovascular system.   

Carbon Monoxide - a gas, produced by incomplete oxidation of some of the substances in tobacco, which reduces the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood.

Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide is lethal because haemoglobin (Hb) has a higher affinity for CO than for the oxygen that your body needs. This means it takes up the space in the haem group that would usually have oxygen in it. The erythrocytes then transport this around the body instead of oxygen, meaning no oxygen delivered to the body. Essentially you can be suffocated from the inside.

Carbon monoxide is impossible to detect by human senses alone (it's colourless, odourless, and inaudible) and therefore specialized carbon monoxide detectors must be bought.

Sources of carbon monoxide homes include heating appliances that use fuels, gas stoves, boilers, motor vehicles. Smoking is also a major source, not only does it take up haemoglobin through inhalation, it can also linger inside a home which will lower the everyday air quality and therefore lead to CO poisoning.


Nicotine is a neurotoxin - a chemical that damages the nervous system. It is extremely addictive and is the main reason that smokers find it so hard to give up. Nicotine is easily transported in the blood, due to its small size as a single molecule. The molecules can easily move out of the blood and into other parts of the body - even the brain!

Nicotine increases the rate of a transmitter substance called dopamine in parts of the brain known as 'reward circuits'. The activation of these circuits causes pleasure and is the reason why a person would enjoy smoking. Nicotine can also cause the release of adrenaline in the blood, increasing blood pressure, heart rate and breathing rate.


Atherosclerosis - hardening and narrowing of the arteries. This progressive process silently and slowly blocks arteries, putting blood flow at risk. Smokers are at a high risk of developing this condition with nicotine increasing blood pressure.

Atherosclerosis is the usual cause of heart attacks and strokes - what together are called "cardiovascular disease."

Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood from the heart throughout the body. They're lined by a thin layer of cells called the endothelium. The endothelium works to keep the inside of arteries toned and smooth, which keeps blood flowing.  As a result of smoking, atherosclerosis can build in an artery to the point at which a blood clot is formed. The clot can starve a part of the brain of oxygen and brain cells have high metabolic rates. The deprivation of this oxygen supply can lead to a person having a stroke.

(A stroke can also be caused by a blood vessel bursting as a result of high blood pressure).  

A stroke causes brain damage due to the killing of brain cells. They cause many different problems including difficulty with speech, concentration, memory or tiredness. But the most common effects are the physical ones such as weakness, numbness and stiffness. If the right side of the brain is affected by the stroke, the left side of the body will have the side effect and vice versa.

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