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The Shocking Ingredients in Cigarettes

The Shocking Ingredients in Cigarettes

If you think cigarettes are simply dried tobacco leaves rolled in paper, you’re about 597 ingredients off. The tobacco industry has become master mixologists with the additives. Some ingredients are added for flavor, but research has shown that the key purpose of using additives is to improve tobacco’s potency resulting in increased addictiveness–and the additives they choose to use are dreadful.

I remember hearing something about “the list” back in the 1990s when tobacco companies first started being taken to task for their dastardly ways, but seeing the list again now that I’m educated about chemistry and health, I am absolutely staggered. It’s amazing this isn’t in the news everyday. It’s bad enough that many of these ingredients are approved for use in food–but that they haven’t been tested for burning? When burnt, the whole mess results in over 4,000 chemicals, including over 40 known carcinogenic compounds and 400 other toxins. These include nicotine, tar, and carbon monoxide, as well as formaldehyde, ammonia, hydrogen cyanide, arsenic, and DDT.

You know it’s bad when the Phillip Morris website has this posted on their homepage: Nearly 5,000 chemicals have been identified in tobacco smoke to date. Public health authorities have classified between 45 and 70 of those chemicals, including carcinogens, irritants and other toxins, as potentially causing the harmful effects of tobacco use.

According to Dr. and Mrs. Quit, also known as Lowell Kleinman, M.D., and Deborah Messina-Kleinman, M.P.H., from the Quit Smoking Center, cigarette flavors have gone through many changes since cigarettes were first made. Initially, cigarettes were unfiltered, allowing the full “flavor” of the tar to come through. As the public became concerned about the health effects of smoking, filters were added. While this helped alleviate the public’s fears, the result was a cigarette that tasted too bitter. (And filters do not remove enough tar to make cigarettes less dangerous. They are just a marketing ploy to trick you into thinking you are smoking a safer cigarette.)

The solution to the bitter-tasting cigarette was easy–have some chemists add taste-improving chemicals to the tobacco. But once they got rolling they figured out they could really maximize the whole addiction part, what a hook. They found that a chemical similar to rocket fuel helps keep the tip of the cigarette burning at an extremely hot temperature, which allows the nicotine in tobacco to turn into a vapor so your lungs can absorb it more easily. Or how about ammonia? Adding ammonia to cigarettes allows nicotine in its vapor form to be absorbed through the lungs more quickly. This, in turn, means your brain can get a higher dose of nicotine with each inhalation. Now that’s efficiency.

For a start, here’s the who’s who of the most toxic ingredients used to make cigarettes tastier, and more quickly, effectively addictive:

Ammonia: Household cleaner.
Arsenic: Used in rat poisons.
Benzene: Used in making dyes, synthetic rubber.
Butane: Gas; used in lighter fluid.
Carbon monoxide: Poisonous gas.
Cadmium: Used in batteries.
Cyanide: Lethal poison.
DDT: A banned insecticide.
Ethyl Furoate: Causes liver damage in animals.
Lead: Poisonous in high doses.
Formaldehyde: Used to preserve dead specimens.
Methoprene: Insecticide.
Maltitol: Sweetener for diabetics.
Napthalene: Ingredient in mothballs.
Methyl isocyanate: Its accidental release killed 2000 people in Bhopal, India, in 1984.
Polonium: Cancer-causing radioactive element.

For the whole list of 599 additives used in cigarettes, see the BBC Worldservice page What’s in a Cigarette.

Read more about cigarettes and the Great American Smokeout:
Lessons from a Smoking Cessation Class

Make the Pledge, Live Longer, Live Better

Read more: Cancer, COPD, General Health, Health, Heart & Vascular Disease, High Blood Pressure, , , , , , , , , ,

By Melissa Breyer, Senior Editor, Healthy & Green Living

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.

309 comments

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2:50AM PDT on Jun 23, 2015

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8:51PM PST on Feb 23, 2015

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9:33PM PST on Feb 17, 2015

It's disgusting what is in cigarettes as this brilliantly informative article says, that's why after I found electronic cigarettes nz I never looked back. They helped me kick that horrible habit forever. E-cigs are a godsend.

9:27AM PDT on Sep 22, 2014

"...including over 40 known carcinogenic compounds and 400 other toxins. These include nicotine,..."

Nicotine is NOT carcinogenic.

3:29AM PDT on Jun 19, 2014

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5:01AM PDT on Mar 26, 2014

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4:57AM PDT on Mar 26, 2014

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1:20AM PST on Dec 19, 2013

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9:39PM PDT on Aug 16, 2013

@Laura L ... glad you don't pity smokers. Pity never helped anyone ! ... While you are on about your concerns for non-smokers, perhaps you should consider giving up a few things yourself ... and advising other non-smokers to do the same thing. e.g. - most all vegetables ( unless grown in your own back yard without insecticides / pesiticides ) .... meats from the supermarket a lot of which is laced with a dreadful preservative - dangerous to health. And while you are at it, quit breathing. If you live in a city, you inhale the fumes from cars, trucks, diesel motors, and industry - yet you have the stupid notion that all 'airspace' as you put it is pure - except when there is a smoker around - not your words, but certainly the inference. And quit knocking a legal product.

Personally I would like to see ALL Governments have cigarettes made illegal. That would make us all slightly more healthy, and would put paid to grizzles of do-gooders. It would also kick back at the non-smokers in their own hip-pocket, to make up for the short fall in tax revenue lost by cigarettes being illegal, and then you'd have something else to complain about.

Finally, ( do you drink alcohol ? ) ... perhaps that should also be made illegal, as it causes so very much grief in the community - by injuries, death, permanent disability, not to mention the brutality in relationships when husband ( or wife ) is drunk out of their mind and beats up mercilessly on partner and children or

3:11PM PDT on Aug 16, 2013

I dont pity the smoker. I am concerned about the non-smokers who are forced to share airspace and suffer health consequences of other peoples nasty habits.

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any plants can help..use caution if you have pets and check the toxicity of these first.

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