Shocking Chemicals Found In Cigarettes

By Wendy Innes. May 7th 2016

There are thousands of chemical compounds found in cigarettes, and many of them are extremely hazardous to the human body; some of them even deadly. Listed here are some of the most shocking chemicals found in cigarettes, but it's important to remember that many of these same chemicals are also found in other tobacco products as well.


Carcinogens are chemicals that cause various types of cancers. There are at least 60 different carcinogens found in cigarettes. These are just some of them:

  • Benzene: Benzene is a chemical used in a number of industrial applications as well as being found in cigarettes. Benzene exposure significantly increases a person's risk of developing leukemia.
  • TSNAs: This stands for tobacco-specific N-nitrosamines, which is a group of four chemicals that are some of the most potent of all the carcinogens found in cigarettes and other types of tobacco products.
  • Formaldehyde: This is the same chemical used for embalming dead bodies, in addition to other industrial and scientific applications. This chemical is specifically linked with causing brain cancer and leukemia.
  • 3,4-Benz[a]pyrene: This is a byproduct that is created when certain materials are not fully burned. It is produced by a variety of sources and it's a type of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon that has been linked to the development of cancer.
  • Toluene: This is an industrial solvent used for making a variety of products, from gasoline to paint thinner. Over time it can lead to a host of medical problems, including cancer, kidney failure and death.

Radioactive Materials

Found within tobacco products are a couple of radioactive materials, which means that they can cause a number of different health problems, and even death.

Polonium-210 (Po-210) and Lead-210 (Pb-210) are both radioactive heavy metals that are present in tobacco smoke. Both of these materials are the result of uranium, which naturally occurs, breaking down into radium. When this happens, it releases radon gas into the air, which further breaks down into the two radioactive elements found in cigarettes and other forms of tobacco.

Researchers believe that the radioactive elements get into the tobacco as a result of the phosphate fertilizers used on the tobacco plants. These two radioactive elements are insoluble in water, which means that they are not removed when the tobacco plants are washed and processed.


There are many different poisonous substances found in tobacco. Some of these are found in products such as rat poison and pesticides, while others are found in household cleaners and solvents.

  • Acetone: This substance is used in nail polish remover and as a plastic solvent. When it comes in contact with the plastic it, it causes the plastic to melt and is often used to remove artificial nails.
  • Ammonia: This common household cleaner is also found in fertilizers. It is often used on tobacco plants because when nicotine is combined with ammonia it makes the tobacco more addictive.
  • Methanol: This is a type of alcohol that is made from wood. It is also one of the main components in rocket fuel.
  • Nicotine: This is the highly addictive substance in tobacco smoke. It occurs naturally in the plant and is intensified by the drying process. When combined with ammonia, the nicotine becomes even more addictive. This is the reason that quitting smoking is so difficult. Nicotine is so poisonous that just one drop of pure nicotine would be fatal to a human.
  • Hydrogen Cyanide: This colorless, poisonous gas has been used in torturous gas chambers. Hydrogen cyanide is a byproduct that is produced when burning a cigarette, which makes it dangerous to those who are exposed to second hand smoke as well.
  • Tar: This is the same substance used to pave the roads we drive on every day. This makes the smoke sticky, especially inside the lungs. It is the result of burning the nicotine and it is responsible for coating everything from a smoker’s teeth and fingers to the light fixtures in their home in a sticky brown residue that is difficult to remove.
  • Vinyl Chloride: This is a substance that is used in the manufacture of certain types of plastics. It has been linked to liver, lung and brain cancers as well as lymphoma and leukemia.
  • Propylene Glycol: This is a popular preservative, added to cigarettes so that the tobacco doesn't get to dry. It also has the added benefit of increasing the effect of nicotine on the body, making cigarettes even more addictive.
  • Carbon Monoxide: Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that displaces oxygen in the body. It is found in high amounts in cigarette smoke, though not in large enough doses to cause immediate death as is the case with engine exhaust.

Heavy Metals

There are a few heavy metals present in cigarettes and theories exist that elevated levels of heavy metals in the body can lead to the development of a number of different health problems, from Alzheimer's disease to certain types of cancers. Some people even believe that heavy metals play a role in the development of autism in children, though research is inconclusive.

  • Cadmium: This metal is found most often in batteries and is the main ingredient in battery acid. Smokers typically have twice as much cadmium in their bodies as non-smokers do.
  • Arsenic: This metal substance is most often used as a pesticide or fertilizer. There have also been several high profile cases of it being used to poison people.
  • Beryllium: This toxic metal is the by-product of the destruction of a number of natural sources such as rocks or dirt. It has been shown to cause cancer with long term exposure.

These are just some of the thousands of chemicals found in cigarettes and other tobacco products. Each of these chemicals alone are dangerous, but when combined they become exponentially more hazardous, all adding up to the well-known effects of smoking on a person’s health. The best thing smokers can do for themselves and their families is to quit. While it can be difficult and take some time for the smoker's health to completely improve, the effort is well worth it.


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