Tobacco smoke contains:

  • nicotine
  • carbon monoxide
  • tar
  • toxic chemicals such as benzene, arsenic and formaldehyde


Although nicotine is a very addictive substance it’s relatively harmless. It’s the carbon monoxide, tar and other toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke that will cause serious damage to your health.

Clean forms of nicotine are licensed to help smokers quit. These are much safer than smoking as they’re nicotine only, don’t have other additives or toxic chemicals, and are proven to be safe and effective.

Read more about nicotine replacement therapy

Carbon monoxide

Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas which takes the place of oxygen in your blood. This forces your heart to work much harder and stops your lungs from working properly.

Your cells and tissues will be prevented from getting the oxygen they need. This can lead to heart disease and stroke.

If you smoke during your pregnancy, carbon monoxide prevents your baby getting the oxygen it needs.

Read more about smoking and pregnancy


Tar is the sticky brown substance that stains smokers’ teeth and fingers yellow-brown. It contains cancer causing particles (carcinogens).

Tar damages your lungs by narrowing the small tubes (bronchioles) that absorb oxygen. It also damages the small hairs (cilia) that help protect your lungs from dirt and infection. This can lead to a range of lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema.

Using tobacco

Tobacco comes in many forms including:

  • cigarettes
  • rolling tobacco
  • illicit tobacco


Cigarettes are the most common type of tobacco product in Scotland. Cigarette tobacco products contain:

  • 2 main tobacco leaf varieties
  • fillers including stems and other waste products
  • water
  • flavourings
  • additives

The additives are used to make the cigarette more palatable to the user. 600 different additives are currently permitted for use in cigarettes in the UK, such as:

  • moisturisers to prolong shelf life
  • sugars to enable the smoke to be more easily inhaled
  • flavourings such as chocolate, vanilla and menthol

These additives can be toxic when combined with other substances or when burned during smoking.

Rolling tobacco

Many people who smoke roll-ups don’t use a filter, so they also end up inhaling more tar and nicotine and therefore become highly addicted and dependent on their habit.

Roll-ups are at least as harmful for you as ordinary cigarettes, and can cause the same health risks. Studies have suggested that people who smoke roll-ups also have an increased risk of cancer of the mouth, oesophagus, pharynx and larynx compared to smokers of manufactured cigarettes.

Illicit tobacco

This is tobacco that has been smuggled into Scotland illegally. This can be packaged to look like your regular brand. It can be either rolling tobacco or cigarettes. Whilst it may be cheaper than legal tobacco, it comes at a cost.

The ingredients of illicit tobacco aren’t known or regulated. Whilst no tobacco is safe, illicit tobacco could contain higher levels of harmful chemicals.

If you’ve used illicit tobacco before you can save even more money, without risking your health, by stopping smoking completely.

Try our cost calculator to find out how much you could save by stopping smoking.

Quit Your Way Scotland

Contact Quit Your Way Scotland to find out how safe forms of nicotine can be used to help you stop smoking.

Last updated:
20 December 2022

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