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What's in Your Cigarette?
Cancer-causing chemical compounds, tar particles and toxic gases - those are just some of the ingredients that make your cigarette tick.

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What's in Your Cigarette?

Smoking is bad for you - that's no secret. But do you know what are in cigarettes? It may surprise you to learn that they have a laundry list of poisons and cancer-causing agents. All of these contribute to the serious harm that smoking causes your body.

Consider these facts before you take your next puff:

  • The smoke produced when cigarettes and cigars burn contains more than 7,000 chemicals. At least 250 of these are known to be harmful. At least 69 can cause cancer.
  • Nicotine is the chemical in tobacco that causes the feeling smokers crave. Nicotine addiction is similar to that of heroin and cocaine.
  • Many toxins in tobacco smoke are found in other items we consume. But the warning labels that come with those products are not included with cigarettes.
  • Tobacco leaves contain radioactive elements that get into your lungs through the smoke. The radioactivity may play a big role in causing lung cancer.
  • The smoke you inhale also contains poisonous gases like carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide.

Cancer-causing chemicals in tobacco smoke, and other places they are used, include:

  • Arsenic (pesticides)
  • Beryllium (nuclear weapons)
  • Benzene (dyes and detergents)
  • Cadmium (batteries)
  • Vinyl chloride (plastic products like PVC pipe)
  • Chromium (leather tanning)
  • Ethylene oxide (antifreeze)
  • Polonium-210, a radioactive element

Other toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke are suspected carcinogens:

  • Formaldehyde
  • Toluene
  • Benzo[a]pyrene
  • Naphthalene (used in moth balls)

The smoke that gets into your lungs also contains tar, lead, ammonia, formaldehyde, butane and naphthalene.

And you already know that smoking affects nonsmokers, too. Secondhand smoke causes disease and early death for adults and children. So renew your commitment to quitting.

By Emily Gurnon, Contributing Writer
Created on 11/16/1999
Updated on 09/11/2013
  • Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry. Toxic substances portal.
  • National Cancer Institute. Harms of smoking and health benefits of quitting.
  • American Lung Association. What’s in a cigarette?
  • American Cancer Society. What’s in tobacco smoke is harmful?
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