There may have been a time, maybe back when the American Indians were rolling their own, that cigarettes were just tobacco rolled in paper. Sounds appropriate, doesn’t it? Afterall, that’s what you want to smoke: Tobacco. But mass production coupled with problems in the making of the product has caused the tobacco industry to make some serious changes in the ingredients. Problems with the product burning “evenly”, problems with a standard cigarette rather than a rough variation, problems with making the tobacco burn more slowly to deliver better value, et al.. have led the industry to make changes over time. Chemicals have been added to the end product. Some cause the leaf to dry faster while others make it taste better. But you better beleive it. There are now more chemicals in that cigarette than there is actual tobacco.
And have you ever thought about that? About just how toxic those chemicals might be, especially when burned and inhaled? Would you stand in a paint shed that had been set on fire and just breathe? Without a mask? How long do you think that exposure could last before you couldn’t breathe at all? And how lasting do you think the effects would be? Would you end up with lung disease? Cigarettes do cause lung disease after all and you know that. But that alone is a gamble that most smokers are willing to take. After all, everyone has heard the stories about 100 year old folk who smoked all their lives. But perhaps they started smoking, as children, back in a day when cigarettes were purer, less tainted. And perhaps that’s the difference. But who knows?
I am not preaching to you. I smoked on and off most of my life. Only recently (about 6 years ago) did I last quit and I intend to never smoke again. No bending or making excuses. My lungs hurt even now and I have a frequent dry cough that worries me. So there will be no more cigarettes for me, but am I too late? Has the damage already been done? I like nicotine. That’s why I smoked and why I often shop for electronic cigarettes even now. The idea of getting nicotine without the smoke attracts me. So, believe me, I am sympathetic to your plight. If you smoke, you are me a few years back and for most of my life.
But as a naturalist who would like to get out of the chemical spray that permeates our environment, I’ve begun to really think about the chemicals in cigarettes. Unlike the chemicals in our foods and beverages, you don’t have to consume cigarettes to get blasted. I have friends who smoke and when we get together over a drink it is a regular “smoke sauna” with smoke blasted into my face in volumes for many hours. Isn’t this exposure as bad as actually smoking the stuff myself? And just bad is that stuff that everyone is inhaling? We all know it causes cancer. But what exactly is it? And can we get around it by smoking differently or smoking something different? Yes, there are alternatives. Lots of them. Some are very similiar and provide the same experience as cigarettes but cost a lot more while others are cheaper but not quite the same. So there are changes that have to be made in order to change the habit. But you might want to consider it after reading this post.
When cigarettes are burnt they result in dispersing over 4,000 chemicals (YES, I said 4000!) and these include 40 known carcinogens and 400 specific toxins known to be deadly. These known toxins include carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, ammonia, hydrogen cyanie, arsenic and DDT. Oh, yes. This stuff is worse than the pesticide drenched food you eat, including peaches and blueberries, and aren’t you trying to buy organic? What good will organic food do for you and yours if you are inhaling toxins with that cigarette? DDT is banned from food crops because it is known to kill people but it’s not illegal to drench non food crops with it, and that includes your cigarette! What they won’t let you eat, they are letting you inhale. And you really need to think about that.
According to the Phillip Morris website, there are nearly 5,000 chemicals that have been identified in cigarette smoke. As well, 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. These chemicals evolved as cigarette flavors changed throughout the years. Oddly enough, a lot of this damage was done because of public concern over the effects of tar. When filters were added to cigarettes to reduce the amount of tar passed to the lungs, it caused the cigarettes to taste too bitter. Although it has been proven that filters do not prevent the damage caused by tar inhalation, they have become an expected part of any cigarette the public buys. It helps alleviate fears. But, the solutions they used to correct the bitter tasting result included adding “taste improving” chemicals. Other marketing concerns caused similar problems. A chemical similar to rocket fuel was added to make the tip of the cigarette burn hot. By burning the tobacco at extreme temperatures the nicotine can be vaporized and more readily absorbed by the lungs. The addition of ammonia facilitated the same effect. It helps the brain absorb the nicotine more quickly and efficiently. So these chemicals were actually added to improve the product and enhance it’s addictive qualities, making your brain become dependant upon it. They are a part of the reason you can’t put the darned things down.
Here are some of the addictive, flavor enhancing and absorbtion boosting chemicals you can find in your favorite smoke:
Ammonia. Yes, this is the same stuff you clean the toilet with. It is added to make your brain absorb more nicotine.
Arsenic. Yes, this is the poison you kill rats with. It is organic in the tobacco, although, to be fair, this is organic in all food stuffs. Even corn has some arsenic.
Benzene. This is a solvent used in making dyes and synthetic rubber. It is classified as a carcinogen and has been isolated as a cause of Leukemia. It can be found in second hand smoke and is a leading cause of Leukemia in children who don’t smoke but are exposed to second hand smoke. It is produced by the burning of the cigarette and is not an additive. Although it can be found in nature, from volcanos and forest fires, people do not stand around breathing volcano or fire smoke like they do cigarettes.
Butane. Yes, this is the gas that you use to light your cigarette with! And, no, this does not refer to the little bit of butane that is released when you strike the flint. Butane is actually IN the cigarette. According to Wikipedia, inhalation of butane can cause euphoria, drowsiness, narcosis, asphyxia, cardiac arrhythmia, and frostbite, which can result in death from asphyxiation and ventricular fibrillation. The addition of butane to tobacco was to help it burn faster.
Carbon Monoxide. Yes, this is the poisonous gas that people use to kill themselves. It is also the reason many people suffocate in a fire; the fire consumes the oxygen while leaving the carbon monoxide, which people cannot breathe. Carbon monoxide is created by the burning of cigarettes and can contribute to euphoria, parathesia, dizziness, nausea and fainting in people overexposed to cigarette smoke, such as in crowded parties or nightclubs. It is carbon monoxide in the cigarette smoke that contributes to the heightened drunkenness that people experience when smoking or drinking around people who smoke.
Cadmium. Yes this is the same element that is used in batteries. It is a toxic heavy metal that occurs in nature. It is found in very high levels in cigarette smoke. A single cigarette contains, on average, 1 to 2 mcg of cadmium. When burned, the level of cadmium in the smoke escalates to 1,000-3,000 ppb (parts per billion). It is beleived that about 40-60% of the cadmium inhaled from cigarette smoke actually passes through the lungs and into the body. This means that for each pack of cigarettes smoked, a person can absorb an additional 1-3 mcg of cadmium over what is taken in from other sources in their daily life. And there are many sources in our environment, both from industry and from nature. Typically, as a result, smokers can have twice as much cadmium in their bodies as their nonsmoking counterparts. If you work with battery manufacture or with a job that involves soldering or welding you are already over exposed to this chemical. But this level alone will not cause a lot of health problems, or, at least, that is the official line. How does compounding this with cigarettes affect you? Well, let’s just say that you shouldn’t smoke if you are already overexposed. Just for your information, over exposure to Cadmium can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle cramps, salivation, sensory disturbances, liver injury, convulsions, shock and renal failure.
Cyanide. Yes, another poison. You’ve probably only heard of it mentioned in documentaries on TRU TV. It is a lethal poison and has been used in the commission of many a murder. It is the same poison as the one used in the Tylenol poisoning mass murder years ago. It is present in second hand smoke as a colorless, poisonous gas that is readily inhaled by both the smoker and everyone else in his or her presence. This product has been used as a genocidal agent in world wars and here people are inhaling it willingly. Smoking cigarettes is probably the single major source of cyanide exposure for people who do not work in cyanide-related industries. And, of course, if you work with cyanide and also smoke, you are double dipping and this is very dangerous. Although you probably cannot suffer cyanide poisoning enough to kill you simply by smoking cigarettes, the cyanide in cigarettes has been known to cause headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea and vomiting. In people who double dip, who work with paper, textile or plastic manufacture and or pest control and also smoke, there can also be episodes of gasping, irregular heartbeats, seizures, fainting and sometimes sudden death.
DDT. Yes, this is the same insecticide that has been banned in food crops. However, it is still legal for use in non food crops, which includes tobacco. As a result, when you smoke, you inhale DDT. DDT kills organisms by interfering with the plasma membranes. It is especially dangerous in waterways. However, although DDT is not easily absorbed through the skin it IS easily absorbed through ingestion or inhalation. Our body stores it in our fatty organs, which includes the thyroid, liver, testicles and adrenal glands. It also concentrates heavily in human breast milk. It is implicated in breast cancer and causes such side effects as nausea, headache, vomiting, confusion and tremors.
Ethyl Furoate. This is a chemical that is known to cause liver damage in animals. The cigarette industry claims this chemical is also found in processed meats, beer and wine and because this is considered safe, then it is safe in your cigarettes. Variations of this chemical are used in the manufacturer of flavoring and fragrances. There isn’t much more than this known about it. The details of this chemical property is closely guarded secret. All that is known about it is inhalation and ingestion causes liver damage in animals.
Lead. Yes, Lead. Need I say more? This stuff is known to be poisonous in high doses. It is not an additive to cigarettes, it is caused by smoking. The smoke itself holds the lead and this is why this is even more dangerous in second hand smoke. A non smoking third party sitting with a group of heavy puffers can get three times the dose that an average smoker would get at any time. Of course, the smokers present under these conditions would be getting as much or more, also. Smoking in groups appears to be very deadly when you look at this list and makes it very clear to all who may question why they made smoking in crowded restaurants and public arenas illegal. Inhalation is one of the easiest and most dangerous methods of bringing lead into the body. This is an important consideration in the construction industry where lead may be in the air as a result of grinding or similar procedures. Sometimes the fumes are created by welding torches. Once airborne lead is easily breathed in by anyone in the vicinity. Chronic exposure, either through employment, hobbies, smoking or a combination of all three, takes a long time to develop symptoms. Chronic exposure is almost always due to low exposures (doses) adding up over a long period of time. Symptoms of chronic exposure include loss of appetite, constipation, nausea, and stomach pain. Additional symptoms that often arise when chronic exposure is doubled by new exposure include excessive tiredness, weakness, weight loss, insomnia, headache, nervous irritability, fine tremors, numbness, dizziness, anxiety, and hyperactivity.
Formaldehyde. Yes, this is the same stuff they use to preserve specimens in the lab and to preserve dead human bodies. How does this crap end up in your cigarette? It is actually in the smoke the cigarette produces. It is apparently found in any smoke created by fire. Formaldehyde is a colorless, odorless gas that is created by combustion. It is actually generated in cigarettes by the addition of sugar to the tobacco. Sugar bolsters the amount of formaldehyde present in the smoke. Sugar is added to tobacco to improve the flavor and to slow the burn. The levels of formaldehyde is lower in those cigarettes that use tobacco treated with honey or molasses as well as sugar. But, as a rule, the more sugar, the more formaldehyde. In general, the first puff of the cigarette generates abnormally high yields of formaldehyde, and this effect has been shown to persist in the presence of added sugars like molasses or honey. So the first puff of the day is the deadliest. Although formaldehyde is present in our environment from many different sources, its safety is in question. Exposure on a daily basis is dangerous and it has been banned as an additive in the manufacturing process in the US and in Europe. Many people died in Indonesia and Viet Nam when formaldehyde was added to food to extend shelf life. Foods from those regions are still under scrutiny. Long term exposure through respiration, whether through tainted air or through cigarette smoke, has been linked to cancer and respiratory illnesses.
Methoprene. This is an insecticide and is used in tobacco farming much the way DDT is. But it does not kill the insects the way DDT does. It is an IGR (Insect Growth Regulator) and it sterilizes the insect, keeping it from breeding. It is used in the flea treatments you put on your dog or cat. It is added to cattle feed to control the flies that breed in dung. Although considered harmless, methoprene has been linked to mass lobster die offs in Narragansett Bay. You are already exposed to it in mosquito controls, from mass spraying to the addition of methoprene to water supplies. It is generally considered to be safe for humans to ingest or inhale. Time will tell if this is not true.
Maltitol. Yes, the sweetener! This is the same stuff you find in your diet sweetener or the stuff they make for diabetics. It is a sugar alcohol and is considered safe for ingestion. This is one of the sugars added to cigarettes to improve the taste and slow the burn. Like sugar, it is basically safe for ingestion and inhalation and has not been proven to cause disease. But the presence of sugars in tobacco is the cause of formaldehyde generation in the smoke. In this round about way malitol, as well as sugar, is a deadly factor in the act of smoking. Malitol has been known to cause gas, diarreah, stomach upsets and nausea in some people and could be a factor is causing stomach distress in smokers.
Napthalene. This is that stuff they use in mothballs. I guess the demand for mothballs is way down these days and so they found another use for this stuff: cigarettes! This is a white solid with a pungent odor derived from the distillation of coal tar and is related chemically to benzene. This is a product every greenie should hate; it is derived from coal tar, which, in turn, comes from an environmentally destructive process. Coal tar is dirtier than oil. You can find napthelene in nature; it is found in trace amounts in Magnolias. It has also been found in meteorites. In modern manufacture, it has uses as a surfactant and fumigant. It is also used in simulated explosions and in fireworks. Exposure to large amounts of naphthalene may damage or destroy red blood cells. Throughout recent history, children have developed hemolytic anemia after ingesting mothballs or deodorant blocks containing naphthalene. Symptoms of naphthalene exposure include fatigue, lack of appetite, restlessness, and pale skin. Exposure to very large amounts of naphthalene may cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, blood in the urine, and jaundice (yellow coloration of the skin). This chemical is produced wherever cigarettes are smoked or wood is burned or mothballs are in use. It is another by product of the cigarette smoking process. After the government mandated that cigarette manufacturers make FSC (fire safe cigarettes) products, the use of fire safe paper became standard. This paper is constructed by gluing two or three thin bands of less-porous paper together with an ethylene vinyl acetate copolymer emulsion based adhesive (carpet glue). These papers have bands that act as inhibitors, so if the cigarette is left unattended it will self-extinguish. The people who passed these laws believed that these cigarettes would limit the number of cigarette fire deaths. According to the Harvard School of Health, studies that compared FSC cigarettes versus regular cigarettes, the FSC cigarettes produced 13.9% more naphthalene and 11.4% more carbon monoxide than regular cigarettes. Naphthalene exposure in high amounts can result in headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, malaise, confusion, anemia, jaundice, convulsions, and coma.
Methyl Isocyanate. This is an organic compound used in the production of carbamate pesticides (such as carbaryl, carbofuran, methomyl, and aldicarb). It has also been used in the production of rubbers and adhesives. As a highly toxic and irritating material, it is hazardous to human health, and was involved in the Bhopal disaster which killed nearly 8,000 people initially and approximately 17,000 people in total. Methyl Isocyanate is a clear, colorless, sharp smelling liquid. It is highly flammable and has a low flash point. It is EXTREMELY toxic. It causes damage by inhalation, ingestion and contact in quantities as low as 0.4 ppm. Symptoms include coughing, chest pain, dyspnea, asthma, irritation of the eyes, nose and throat as well as skin damage. Higher levels of exposure, over 21 ppm, can result in pulmonary or lung edema, emphysema and hemorrhages, bronchial pneumonia and death. It is, however, odorless and undetectable in the air. When mixed with water, it produces a strong poisonous gas. This chemical has been found to be present in cigarette smoke. I cannot find a definitive reason this stuff is in cigarettes. I have found, in a round about way, that it’s probably there as a by product of pesticide residue. The people who died in India worked at a pesticide plant and this is the most common use for this dangerous chemical. Although I can’t be sure of it, I assume this chemical is present in the pesticides that are used in tobacco farming. As result, you inhale it with your smoke.
Polonium. This is a cancer-causing radioactive element. Polonium is a rare and highly radioactive metalloid, is chemically similar to bismuth and tellurium, and occurs in uranium ores. Polonium has been studied for possible use in heating spacecraft. It is unstable; all isotopes of polonium are radioactive. Polonium was discovered by Marie Curie and was named after her native country, Poland. It is a very rare element in nature because of the short half-life of all its isotopes. By mass, polonium-210 is around 250,000 times more toxic than hydrogen cyanide. The main hazard is its intense radioactivity, which makes it very difficult to handle safely. A single gram will self-heat to a temperature of around 500 °C (932 °F). Even in microgram amounts, handling 210Po is extremely dangerous, requiring specialized equipment and strict handling procedures. Alpha particles emitted by polonium will damage organic tissue easily if polonium is ingested, inhaled, or absorbed, although they do not penetrate the epidermis and hence are not hazardous if the polonium is outside the body. Now, I am sure you are asking (because I am asking) how the hell did this crap end up in your smokes? A lot of polonium poisoning has been attributed to radon exposure in homes and offices. But did you know that tobacco smoking causes additional exposure to polonium? The presence of polonium in tobacco smoke has been known since the early 1960s and some of the world’s biggest tobacco firms researched ways to remove the substance but have been unsuccessful. Although these efforts are still ongoing and have been for over 40 yers, the tobacco industry has yet to publish the results of its study. This is how tobacco gets tainted: radioactive polonium-210 contained in phosphate fertilizers is absorbed by the roots of plants (such as tobacco) and stored in its tissues. Tobacco plants fertilized by rock phosphates contain polonium-210, which emits alpha radiation estimated to cause about 11,700 lung cancer deaths annually worldwide. So there you have it. It’s not just pesticides, but fertilizers, too, that make cigarettes so dangerous.
I now have a clearer understanding of why I quit smoking. As I tried to reduce the amount I was smoking, the more I became aware of the effects. I guess lower levels of exposure was making me more sensitive? Anyways, towards the end I was getting nauseous, dizzy, light headed, spacy, forgetful and tired. I wasn’t getting a boost from it anymore and more often than not, I coughed all the time. It was making my sinus problems far worse. I started to get so spacy after smoking that I could not focus at work and had to quit smoking on my breaks. It was that bad. I found that I could only smoke easily when I drank. And it made me drunker quicker when I did.
I have found, for the most part, many of the chemicals found in cigarette smoking are actually found in the smoke itself. Many of these are also present in any fire where smoke is produced and are part of the reason people die in fires from smoke inhalation. You can find most of them in a volcano or at a forest fire or even a bonfire on the beach. This forms a good argument for not burning anything and inhaling it and bolsters the arguments made in favor of smokeless tobacco. Although tar and nicotine are considered dangerous, too, and are present in all tobacco no matter how it’s ingested, these two alone are far less scary than the whole litany of deadly junk you get by smoking. Not that I am suggesting that you start chewing tobacco or using snuff but the argument about smoke tends to suggest that.
Another recourse is to switch to herbal cigarettes. This means kicking nicotine, though, and is hard to do for many people. If you do switch, try growing your own herbs to smoke and grow them without pesticides or fertilizers. Of course, you could follow this same principle and grow your own tobacco just as easily and grow it organically as well. It does seem most of the toxins in cigarettes are present because of the growing methods. You could switch to American Spirit cigarettes, which are grown organically. There may be others, this is just the only brand I am aware of.
However, I do believe the best way to avoid all the dangers in cigarettes is to either quit or make big changes. If you grow your own tobacco, you can leave off the pesticides, the fertilizers, the additives like sugar and malitol, which increase the formation of toxins like formaldehyde. Using natural papers takes away some of the added dangers, as well. But then you will likely have a cigarette that burns really fast or doesn’t burn that hot and may go out often. It’s a gamble. It may also taste differently than the smokes you are used to.
A big change you might consider is switching to electronic cigarettes. These new, cutting edge products offer an experience very close to cigarettes, with a device that looks like a cigarette, has an end that lights up and is inhaled like a smoke. The advantage is that there is no smoke, no additives, no pesticides, no fertilizers, no toxins because there is no tobacco at all. What you get is a cartridge full of nicotine that you spritz and inhale through the “tube” or cigarette. You can manage the dose of nicotine you get by controlling the amount you inhale, you can lower your usage of the cigarette and eventually quit this way if you choose. It is much safer than traditional cigarettes but not completely safe because you still get addicted to toxic nicotine and might not be able to stop. The other drawback is that the first expense is a bit of a hit, buying the kit with the “cigarette” and cartridges all at once. But, over time, all you replace are cartridges as you need them and they come in various sizes, such as so many a day or week or month, according to your usage level. Some good ones to consider are: D’Lights , ePuffer eCigarette, Gamucci ELITE – Disposable eCigarette, Solar eCigarette, and I DO get a commission if you buy these items but this is not the purpose of this post. In fact, if you do happen to buy one of these and I get a commission on that sale, I will donate that money to the American Cancer Society and will produce a receipt for this on request.
For a complete, exhausting list of ALL of the chemicals to be found in cigarettes and cigarette smoke, please see this website: Tobacco Facts