What is a Cigarette and What's In It?

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What is a Cigarette?

A cigarette is a cylindrical roll of shredded or ground tobacco that is wrapped in paper or another substance that does not contain tobacco. Many manufactured cigarettes also have filters on one end that are intended to trap some of the toxic chemicals contained in cigarette smoke.

What's in a Cigarette?

Depending on the type of cigarette, the ingredients will vary somewhat.

  • Commercially produced cigarettes manufactured by one of the Big Tobacco companies can and do contain hundreds of additives on top of the tobacco that's in the cigarettes.

    In April of 1994, five of the big tobacco companies in the United States provided the U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services with a list of 599 potential additives used in manufacturing their cigarettes.  Specific "recipes" were not given due to proprietary concerns.  

    Some additives are used as flavoring agents, but others, like ammonia, are added to boost the effect that nicotine has on the smoker.

    Read more: Big Tobacco's List of 599 Cigarette Additives 

    • Hand-rolled cigarettes use loose tobacco.  They don't contain the additives traditional cigarettes do, but they are hazardous to health, as well. 

    Read more: Are Roll Your Own Cigarettes a Healthier Smoking Choice?

    How about the Cigarette Smoke?

    Cigarette smoke is a complex mix of 7000 chemicals.  Some are produced by the additives listed above, some from pesticides that are used in the tobacco farming process, some are formed when those additives are burned, and some are formed when burning chemicals combine, producing yet more unique chemicals.

     To date, 250 poisonous chemicals have been identified in cigarette smoke, and 70 carcinogens.

    Why it's Important to Avoid Secondhand Smoke

    Why Thirdhand Smoke is Dangerous

    How Long Have Cigarettes Been Around?

    Mayan Indians may have been the first people to smoke tobacco in the Americas. Images of tobacco use have been found carved into stone that date to 600 to 900 A.D.

    North American Indians have long smoked pipes filled with tobacco as part of religious ceremonies and medical purposes. Smoking was not a daily activity, rather, it was filled with special meaning.

    Cigarette smoking became a popular activity with men in the early 1900's, but it wasn't until World War I and World War II that smoking really took off.  Cigarette companies gave soldiers free cigarettes and marketed them to women back home as well. By 1944, cigarette manufacturing was a 300 billion dollar industry. At that time, service men consumed approximately 75 percent of the cigarettes produced.  

    By 1964 however, concerns over the health effects of smoking were surfacing.  The U.S. Surgeons General published a report about the dangers of smoking and not long after, Congress passed the Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act. It said that every cigarette pack must have a warning label on its side stating "Cigarettes may be hazardous to your health."

    Today, cigarette smoking is on the wane in many parts of the world, but plenty of cultures still smoke with few, if any legislative restrictions on them.


    It's likely that cigarette consumption will continue to decrease as more and more people understand the tremendous health hazards they pose.


    Healthliteracy.worlded.org.From the First to the Last Ash: The History, Economics and Hazards of Tobacco. http://healthliteracy.worlded.org/docs/tobacco/Unit1/2history_of.html

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