Cigarettes and cigarette smoke contain a large number of chemicals that have a detrimental effect. This write-up delves into some of the most dangerous ones.


This colourless toxic gas has a rather strong odor. In cigarettes, its main role is to augment the impact that nicotine produces. Other than cigarettes, ammonia is commonly used in fertilizers and various household cleaning products. Ammonia works in increasing nicotine's impact through 'free basis', and this is akin to the process that heightens the effects of cocaine.

Angelica Root Extract:

This constituent is derived from the treated roots of the Angelica Polymorpha Sinensis, and oriental cultures have used this extract to treat anemia. In the US, this extract is broadly promoted as 'ginseng for women', and is supposed to minimize premenstrual discomfort coupled with regulating reproductive functions. The downside is that it is a known cause of cancer in animals.


Since arsenic is used as pesticide, it finds its way in cigarettes through the tobacco plant. Arsenic has been classified as a carcinogenic (cancer causing) substance by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and inorganic arsenic has been linked with causing skin cancer, lung cancer, etc. A majority of the cigarette brands contain at least 0.04micrograms or arsenic, and this highly toxic chemical is very effective in killing rats and gophers.


Benzene is also known as carcinogenic substance, and while natural phenomena such as volcanoes and forest fires lead to the production of benzene, it is also produced when tobacco is burnt (in pipes as well as in cigarettes). Benzene is used in manufacturing insecticides, plastics, dyes, nylon, resins, etc. Short term exposure to benzene can lead to dizziness, sleepiness, tremors, rapid breathing, coma, etc; and long term exposure can lead to leukaemia, anemia, genetic damage, excessive bleeding etc.


This hydrocarbon that is used as fuel is commonly found in cigarette lighters. Used in cigarettes to help keep the cigarette alight, it also works as a depressant, and prolonged exposure is known to produce significant respiratory problems.

Carbon Monoxide:

Carbon Monoxide is produced during nearly all incomplete combustions, and this includes cigarette smoking. Through the lungs, carbon monoxide enters the blood stream, and reduces its ability to carry oxygen. Exposure to carbon monoxide can lead to dizziness, headaches, fatigue, nausea / vomiting, increased heart rate, etc.


Cyanide prevents the appropriate use of oxygen and exposure to cyanide can lead to brain damage and heart problems. Exposure to cyanide in small quantities can lead to dizziness, headaches, restlessness, weakness, etc; and in large quantities it can lead to lung damage, convulsions, slow heart rate, respiratory failure, and even loss of life. Smoke derived from most American cigarette brands have in between 10 to 400 μg cyanide per cigarette.

DDT (Dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane):

A highly toxic insecticide, DDT is known to have killed even the birds that fed upon insects which had been exposed to DDT. A number of countries have banned the use of DDT on food crops, and since tobacco falls outside this category, DDT is used in tobacco plantations. It is through this way that DDT finds its way into cigarettes.

Ethyl Furoate:

Ethyl Furoate is used as a flavoring agent in cigarettes and is known to cause liver damage in a number of animal species.

Lead and Polonium:

Radioactive lead and polonium isotopes enter tobacco relating to soil based radium's radioactivity. Regions where tobacco grows are generally radium rich, and this can also be augmented due to fertilizer usage. Inhaling radioactive lead and polonium can lead to appetite loss, shortness of breath, persistent chest pain, fatigue, pneumonia, lung cancer, bronchial cancer, etc. Radioactive polonium is the only chemical found in cigarette smoke which has caused cancer by itself due to inhalation in lab testing on animals.


While our bodies do produce a small quantity of formaldehyde naturally, a majority of the formaldehyde found in the environment is because of the generation of household waste and the burning of different fuels, and it can also be found in cigarette smoke. Short term exposure to formaldehyde can lead to wheezing, coughing, nausea, skin irritation, etc; and long term exposure can lead to asthma. Formaldehyde is also considered a carcinogen, and is associated with causing nasal and nasopharyngeal cancer.


This insecticide is classified as a larvicid, and is used to kill larvae of mosquitoes, fleas, and other insects. It works by disabling growth hormones, and its effects on human beings are still being studied.


This chemical is a natural constituent of grapefruit juice and can be found in Greek and Turkish tobaccos. It is known to add flavor to tobacco.


Commonly used as an artificial sweetener, it has been banned in the US because it is believed to be a carcinogenic substance. However, it is still used in cigarettes.


Naphthalene is considered a possible carcinogen and can be found in moth balls. This chemical is produced when cigarettes are smoked and prolonged exposure to naphthalene can lead to anemia, nausea / vomiting, headaches, dirrhoea, jaundice, convulsions, and coma; and prolonged exposure can also damage a person's red blood cells.

Methyl Isocyanate:

Another highly toxic chemical, methyl isocyanate is used in manufacturing pesticides among other things. Exposure to this compound can affect the reproductive and respiratory systems. Small amounts of this compound are found in cigarette smoke, and the incidental release of methyl isocyanate from the Union Carbide factory was responsible for more than 2000 deaths in Bhopal (India) in 1984. Signs of methyl isocyanate poisoning include vomiting, breathing problems, chest pain, cough, etc.

Propylene Glycol:

This chemical regulates moisture content, has conservative properties, and also produces milder smoke. Used as a processing agent, it works in minimizing the generation of fine particles and dust, and also works as a solvent when it comes to other additives that are used in cigarettes. Additionally, it also helps in the prevention of mold formation. Other than cigarettes, propylene glycol is also used in a variety of cosmetics, baby wipes, tyre sealants, paints, adhesives, stain removers, fabric softeners, etc. It is a known skin irritant, and can cause kidney damage and liver problems.