What’s in Cigarette Smoke, Anyway?

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Cigarette Ash

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.

 

Find Help Near You

Use the SAMHSA Treatment Locator to find substance use or other mental health services in your area. If you are in an emergency situation, this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: call 1-800-273-TALK, or visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We also have step by step guides on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member.

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