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More and more people are concerned about the health risks of nicotine — particularly if it's smoked via vaping or vaping "toys". But according to the Cancer Council NT, the risks aren't as they're often portrayed.

In a report released today, the council warns that it's important to take a balanced approach to evaluating the risks and benefits of the use of tobacco and nicotine:

The evidence shows that nicotine, contrary to popular belief, is not likely to be carcinogenic.

Currently, most people have a particular view of the health risks of smoking and perceived harms from vaping. Among the public, they tend to see, when they think about tobacco, that the harm they are likely to face from smoking is considerable compared to the harm they might face from vaping. This is not supported by the evidence and seriously underestimates the levels of harm linked to smoking and vaping.

Nicotine is not the danger it was intended to be, in the form of burning tobacco in cigarette or cigarette tobacco, or any other form of smoking. Nicotine is actually an essential part of how the body controls the body temperature.

Nicotine is a component of the substances which make some tobacco products smoked with a cigar or pipe so 'smokey'. Even in regular cigarettes, nicotine is not a primary cause of a body temperature increase.

Since smoking is harmful to you, obviously you are exposed to nicotine as well as the smoke it creates, but nicotine is not the principal cause of a body temperature increase.

Tobacco is addictive and nicotine is quite addicting, so smokers need to regulate the amount of nicotine to do well. People who can't control their consumption will do worse over time, at the cost of developing adverse health conditions. This problem is exacerbated by the use of more than one type of tobacco product. It doesn't make sense to smoke one type of tobacco and not another.

The key to understanding the risks of tobacco and nicotine is to use an evidence-based approach to interpreting the evidence, not to overstate or underestimate the risks and harms, and to put the evidence in context to the small and at times unrealised risk of passive smoking.

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As with all substances, there is a risk of some harm from using tobacco and nicotine. In a small number of cases this can be life-threatening. For some people, using tobacco has been linked to causing lung cancer and other types of cancer. For many people, if they don't smoke, there is no effect.

On the other hand, because a lot of tobacco and nicotine we smoke is a substitute for amphetamine, cocaine and other powerful drugs, there can be significant protection from the risks of these drugs as well.

Much of the attention on smoking and harm to health has focused on harm to the body from secondhand smoke. But there are also risks from exposure to things that people don't think of as smoke — like pollen, mould and other environmental contaminants. Exposure to these pollutants has been linked to a range of ailments, especially respiratory, cardiovascular and kidney disease.

The Council accepts that there may be health risks from using tobacco and nicotine. But there is no case for any policy that would interfere with the harmless use of these substances, nor for legislation that would deliberately increase smoking rates in certain areas of Australia or prohibit vaping or 'toys' that are not less dangerous than tobacco or nicotine.

Peter Baker is Cancer Council NT's Director, Cancer Prevention and Screening

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