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Drugs & Health Blog

What’s in Cigarette Smoke, Anyway?

This blog post is archived and is no longer being updated. For the latest content, please visit the main Drugs & Health Blog page.
Sara Bellum

Stanford University professor Dr. Robert Proctor looked through tons of public documents to find out what tobacco companies put in cigarettes. He found some unusual ingredients, like:

  • Urea, a compound found in urine
  • Diammonium phosphate, used to make fertilizer
  • Levulinic acid, used in cleaning solvents
  • Ammonia
  • Formaldehyde
  • Chocolate (not the Hershey bar kind, the bitter baking kind)

He found secretions from the anal gland of the civet cat as well as the Siberian beaver—ewwwwww!

These are just a few of more than 158 additives some cigarette manufacturers roll up in cigarettes.

What Makes Smoking Cigarettes So Addictive?

You may wonder—why these ingredients? Nicotine, the main addictive chemical in all cigarettes, and other ingredients are designed to make it harder to quit: 

  • Chocolate is meant to make cigarettes taste better, but cocoa is also a bronchodilator, meaning it helps open the lungs and makes them more receptive to the smoke.
  • Ammonia breaks down nicotine molecules into a “free base” state—just like the process that makes crack cocaine so potent and addictive—which adds to cigarettes’ potency.
  • Levulinic acid increases the efficiency of nicotine uptake, or binding, in the brain.
  • Licorice, nutmeg powder, dandelion root extract, sugar, and prune juice are flavors added to cigarettes that make the smoke smoother and better smelling.

Consumers’ Reports

Proctor’s research found some odd complaints from smokers over the years. For example, a 1994 Philip Morris Co. document revealed contamination in cigarettes from rubber bands, machine belts and lubricants, ink and tax stamp solvents, glass fibers and plastics, and stains called “consistent with blood.” That doesn’t even include the bugs or worms (dead and alive!) that have been reported in cigarettes!

For more startling facts on smoking, check out the American Legacy Foundation. This group was set up using the proceeds from the Government’s lawsuit against tobacco companies for fooling the public into thinking smoking was harmless. Find out more in Legacy’s truth campaign for youth.


Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


Very well posted.Quite informative. [commercial link removed per policy]
We all know very well that smoking is a bad habit, but I can not quit smoking and had become accustomed to those bad habit in spite of all the damage caused by my habit [commercial link removed per policy]
I really enjoy simply reading all of your weblogs. Simply wanted to inform you that you have people like me who appreciate your work. Definitely a great post. Hats off to you! The information that you have provided is very helpful. [commercial link removed, per guidelines]
this is a really good comment but if you dont want to stop you dont have to there s nothing wrong with that (trust && believe)...
don't smoke.
I thing that if you put your mind to something like stooping smoking you can do it mine over matter
Yes smoking is injurious to health and it also affects the health of passive smokers. I think those who want to quit smoking should switch to electronic cigarettes. My friend is no longer a smoker. [deleted, per guidelines] He started using it and soon by reducing the amount of nicotine he finally quit smoking.
how can i stop smorking ciggs

Hi Joshua, there are several methods you can use to quit smoking.  Your doctor should be able to advise you, or you can  check out these resouces from the National Cancer Institute: Free Help to Quit Smoking.

Why would anyone inhale chemicals found in rat poison and in urine.
Filter cigarettes (butts) are made from acetate and are not biodegradable, ie stay in the environment for decades earlier than degrading the atmosphere. Nicotine: it's a colorless liquid that's on the ground of the snuff and turns brown when burned, the odor of snuff gather when exposed to air is particularly addictive. Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a colorless, odorless toxic gasoline. Non-tense - no coughing, but it is very poisonous.