There are over 4000 chemicals in cigarettes. Some like nicotine are simply released unmodified as the tobacco is burnt. Other chemicals are newly formed by the combustion process. No matter how these chemicals are formed you will be sure that most will not be good for your health. It's not just the chemicals naturally present in the tobacco that you have to worry about as there are a host of chemical compounds added to tobacco during the manufacturing process. Some improve the taste, while others are added to ensure that the tobacco in the cigarette burns consistantly and evenly. Currently there are 599 chemicals, approved by the US government, which can be legally added to cigarette tobacco.
What follows is a brief survey of some of the chemicals in cigarettes and how they impact on the smoker's health.
Cancer Chemicals in Cigarettes
Of the 4000 chemicals released in burning tobacco 69 of these chemicals are known cancer (carcinogens) causing agents. The most potent of these cancer causing chemicals in cigarettes are tobacco specific nitrosamines. These chemicals are not just implicated in lung and mouth cancer but are also involved in cancers of distant body sites, such as the bladder and pancreas.
Smokers Love Nicotine
Everyone knows that nicotine is addictive. But did you know that nicotine is a very potent poison? Just 3 drops of pure nicotine can kill a grown man. Nicotine also has substantial physiological effects on the body. Initially nicotine causes the release of adrenalin which increases blood pressure and heart rate. Sustained high blood pressure is a leading cause of stroke. Long term nicotine take results in the release of cholesterol which in turn can clog blood vessels causing vascular and heart disease. Furthermore, nicotine causes blood vessels to constrict and red blood cells to clump. This combined effect helps the formation of occlusive plaques on the vessel walls. Once arterial vessels become blocked blood flow to the brain, heart and other organs may be affected resulting in vascular disease, organ failure, or heart attack, depending on the vessel involved; it is estimated that 20% of all heart disease is directly related to smoking.
Tar Sticks Like Mud
Tar is also present in cigarette smoke and coalesces in the lung of the smoker coating sensitive lung tissue with a sticky brown substance. Tar paralyses cilia, the fine hair like projections which are responsible for removing particulate matter from the lungs. This prevails the cilia from performing their normal lung cleaning function. Tar in the lungs damages delicate tissue that increases the risk of lung cancer and other lung diseases, such as emphysema.
Burning Sugar is Addictive
Acetaldehyde is present in tobacco smoke but not in unburnt tobacco. It is one of those chemicals in cigarettes which are produced during tobacco combustion. Tobacco companies add sugar to tobacco during the manufacturing process to enhance flavor though when sugars are burnt they produce acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is a toxic irritant and neuro-poison. Chronic exposure damages cell structures in the brain and other organs. Modern research has shown that acetaldehyde is an addictive chemical in its own right. It also acts in tandem with nicotine to enhance nicotine's already potent addictive properties.
Still With Me?
By my count that's 4 down, only another 3996 chemicals in cigarettes to go. I suspect if I traded on this vein I would lose most of my readers before I got to number 10. I suppose I've made my point. What is really scary is that the health consequences for many of the known chemicals in cigarettes have not yet been determined.