What Are You Smoking?

Cigarettes contain more than three thousand chemicals and nicotine is not the worst

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Think you’re just smoking tobacco in that cigarette? Think again. Cigarettes contain some pretty toxic chemicals, no matter what the label says.

Spanish scientists isolated 120 chemicals found in Spanish, English and American cigarettes. Results found that nicotine isn’t the most harmful and high levels of toxic chemicals are still found in low-tar brands.

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Maria Isabel Beltrán led a team of chemical engineering researchers at the University of Alicante in Spain.

For the study, 10 brands of cigarettes sold in Spain, including American and British brands, were tested for toxic substances.

While regulations for certain chemicals such as nicotine, tar and carbon monoxide vary from country to country, researchers found many toxic substances in cigarettes are unregulated.

The ten cigarette brands included three from Spain: Fortuna, Ducados and Nobel. And seven from the U.S. and UK: John Player, Lucky Strike, L&M, Camel, Chesterfield, Winston and Marlboro.

For the 10 brands, researchers tested approximately 200 cigarettes with a smoking machine designed to “catch” the chemical compounds in the cigarette the same way a person would.

The smoking machine helped researchers identify 35 gaseous chemical compounds and 85 chemical compounds from the particulate matter.

Researchers discovered the amount of tar a cigarette produces is not proportionate to the amounts of chemicals like isoprene, toluene and chrotonaldehyde.

Beltrán said, “We should not therefore assume that a cigarette which generates more tars is going to be more toxic than another that produces fewer.”

Nicotine levels were found to be as low as 0.28 mg per cigarette and as high as 0.61 mg, depending upon the brand—that’s more than double the nicotine per smoke.

Beltrán said, “[A]lthough nicotine is responsible for the addiction, it is not the most harmful part of the cigarette. Of the more than 3,000 compounds in tobacco there are many which are worse, such as hydrogen cyanide, 1, 3-butadiene or some of the families of aldehydes, nitrosamines and phenols.”

This study was published in May in Food and Chemical Toxicology.

No funding information was provided for this study and no conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 9, 2012
Last Updated:
October 14, 2012