What’s in cigarette smoke? Name your poison

February 14, 2014 | by Denise Heady

What's in a cigarette?

Cigarettes are obviously bad for your health. They're blamed for one in five deaths in the United States and for 90 percent of lung cancer deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They also contribute to the risk heart disease, aneurysms, bronchitis, emphysema and stroke.

In fact, cigarettes cause more deaths each year than HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, car accidents and guns –  combined.

Most people understand that cigarettes contain chemicals. What they might not understand is what happens when those chemicals are burned. Once lit, a cigarette releases – via smoke – thousands of chemicals, many of them both toxic and carcinogenic.

“We do not know all the chemicals that go into a cigarette,” said Brian Tiep, M.D., director of pulmonary rehabilitation and smoking cessation at City of Hope. “There are somewhere between 4,000 and 7,000 chemicals. And a cigarette would not necessarily continue to burn if it weren’t for these additives that the tobacco industry puts in them.”

Some of the chemicals in cigarette smoke are also found in batteries, rocket fuel, toilet cleaners and rat poison.

But while those products boast warning labels about the dangers of their ingredients, cigarette packaging has no warnings about the toxic chemicals released via cigarette smoke.

More than 70 of those chemicals are known to cause cancer, according to the CDC. One of those, arsenic, which can also be found in rat poison, is not only carcinogenic, but causes damage to the heart and blood vessels. Another – the colorless, flammable formaldehyde – is used to kill bacteria and preserve dead bodies, and exposure to it has been linked to several cancers, according to the National Cancer Institute.

One of the better-known ingredients in a tobacco cigarette, of course, is nicotine. This drug can be just as addicting as heroin, research has suggested, and helps keep smokers coming back for more.

“The amount of nicotine in cigarettes is not harmful, except for one thing — it keeps people smoking and that’s harmful,” Tiep said.

So before you light up another cigarette, take a good look at the ingredients. Do you really want to inhale the same chemicals used to kill rats and preserve bodies? Do you really want other people to inhale them?


First, read the post: Don't wait for a doctor to suggest lung-cancer screening...

Then, learn more about City of Hope's lung-cancer screening program.



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