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.
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.