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About smoking

What’s in a cigarette

Smoke enters the lungs as gases and solid particles which condense to form a thick brown tar; this lines the passages down which the smoke travels and then collects in the lungs. Tobacco is made from several hundred chemical compounds that fall into five main categories:

  • Nicotine – one cigarette can deliver between 0.5mg and 2mg depending on how it was cured and how it was smoked (up to 90% if inhaled, and 10% if not).
  • Gases – carbon monoxide at 300-400 times the level considered safe in industry and hydrogen cyanide at 160 times the safe level.
  • Carcinogens, or chemicals capable of causing cancer – there are anything between 10-15 in a single cigarette.
  • Co-carcinogens, or chemicals which don’t cause cancers directly but which accelerate the growth of cancer.
  • Irritants – substances which disturb and inflame the bronchial passages to the lungs, increase mucus secretion and damage the process of getting rid of it.

Today, the majority of cigarettes are filter-tipped which removes many of the harmful substances from cigarette smoke. Low-tar and low nicotine cigarettes will reduce the amount of nicotine and tar entering the body but some filter-tipped cigarettes allow more poisonous carbon monoxide into the lungs.


The Origins of Tobacco: Addicted to Pleasure | BBC | 29 Aug 2015 | 4m

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