Nicotine is a stimulant found in certain plants, most notably tobacco. It is one of more than 4,000 chemicals found in tobacco products and the primary component that acts on the brain. Nicotine is one of the most heavily used addictive drugs in the U.S., and smoking tobacco is the leading preventable cause of disease, disability, and death. Cigarette smoking accounts for 90 percent of lung cancer cases in the U.S., and about 40,000 deaths per year can be attributed to secondhand smoke. Most cigarettes sold in the U.S. today contain 10 milligrams or more of nicotine.
In 1989, the Surgeon General issued a report indicating that cigarettes and other forms of tobacco that contain nicotine (such as cigars, pipe tobacco, and chewing tobacco) are addictive. The report also determined that smoking was a major cause of stroke. Most smokers know that tobacco is harmful and express a desire to decrease or end use of it, with nearly 35 million people seriously attempting to quit each year. Unfortunately, most relapse within just a few days, and less than seven percent of those who try to quit on their own achieve a year of abstinence.
Besides nicotine's addictive properties, other factors that lead to its widespread use include its wide availability, the small number of legal and social consequences of tobacco use, and the sophisticated marketing and advertising methods of tobacco companies.