Home >> Health and Fitness >> Chemical Components of Cigarette Smoke

There are many chemicals found in cigarette smoke. In fact, over 4,000 chemicals are found in cigarette smoke according to the C.D.C. This is so because many of these chemicals are combined with other chemicals to form them. Acetone, for instance, are made with propylene which is produced from fossil fuels – petroleum natural gas, and coal. Most of these chemicals however, are found in cigarettes in small quantities but some are in very large amounts. The twelve most dominant ones are listed below.

Chemical Components of Cigarette Smoke


Acetone is a by product of the distillery industry produced directly or indirectly from propylene – an unsaturated organic compound. It is a corrosive liquid solvent most commonly used in nail polish remover, paint thinner, and cigarettes. Because of its destructive ability it is used in many laboratories for cleaning purposes.

Like many chemicals, exposure to acetone - even in small amounts, can throw off the body’s normal functioning causing headaches; increased pulsed rate; throat and lung irritation; nausea; vomiting; unconsciousness and possibly coma. The state of one’s health at the time of exposure will determine the severity of acetone’s effect on the body.


Ammonia is a compound of nitrogen – a non-metal element occurring in all living organisms, and hydrogen – the lightest and most abundant chemical element in the universe. It is used in combination with other chemicals to make cleaning products, and is one of the most dangerous chemicals found in cigarette smoke. It is very destructive to the immune system. Because of ammonia’s caustic effect, it can be detrimental to anyone’s health if inhaled in any portion.


Arsenic is a naturally occurring mineral found in soil, bedrock, and water. It is used in the production of pesticides – bacteria used to repel pests, herbicides – fungus used to kill unwanted plants, and insecticides – bacteria used to get rid of insects. The process by which these chemicals are incorporated by manufacturers of cigarettes, for example, makes them harmful to living things.


Butane is a highly flammable, colorless gas. It is used as fuel mostly for cooking, camping and in cigarette lighters. Inhalation of butane can cause severe reactions such as, abnormal electrical activity in the heart; deficiency of oxygen to the body causing inability to breathe; unconsciousness; hypersomnia – a desire to sleep for long period; and also euphoria – a strong sense of well-being. The euphoric effect is definitely one reason butane is used in cigarette and so often reached for when smokers are feeling dysphoric.


Cadmium is a key component in battery production. It is produced mainly as a byproduct from mining, smelting, and refining sulfidic ores of zinc, lead and copper. Small amounts of cadmium are also generated from recycling iron and steel scrap. Because of cadmium’s ability to resist corrosion when applied to steel components, it is widely used in the aircraft industry.

Carbon Monoxide

Carbon Monoxide is a deadly, colorless, odorless, poisonous gas. It is produced by the incomplete burning of various fuels including charcoal, kerosene, propane, and natural gas. Products and equipment powered by internal combustion engines such as portable generators, cars, lawn mowers, and power washers also produce carbon monoxide. Any exposure to carbon monoxide can lead to death, especially in enclosed areas.


Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring substance in the environment made of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. It is a colorless, strong smelling gas commonly used as a preservative in medical laboratories, and mortuaries. It is also found in cigarettes, glues and plywood. It is a cancer causing hazard that can cause an immune reaction within minutes of exposure.

Hydrogen Cyanide

Hydrogen cyanide is a colorless, extremely poisonous liquid that interferes with iron containing respiratory enzymes. Hydrogen cyanide forms in limited amounts from many combinations of hydrogen, carbon, and ammonia. Because of its high toxicity effect which halts cellular respiration by inhibiting an enzyme in the mitochondria, it is the poison given to death row inmates when their time in prison has expired.


Methanol is an alternate fuel for internal combustion and other engines, such as race cars and rockets. Ingestion in large amounts can cause blindness and be fatal if left untreated. Methanol poisoning is easier to treat than other chemicals, but must be treated while in the asymptomatic phase.


Nicotine is the chief active constituent of tobacco. It acts as a stimulant in small doses, but in larger amounts blocks the action of the autonomic nerve and skeletal muscle cells. Because of its highly stimulating effect, it is extremely addictive and thus responsible for the dependence-forming habits of smokers. Nicotine increases the flow of dopamine - a neurotransmitter, creating pleasurable feelings in the user, and a desire to maintain them. When a cigarette is smoked, nicotine-rich blood passes from the lungs to the brain within seven seconds and immediately stimulates the release of many chemical messengers including acetylcholine, vasopressin, arginine, dopamine, autocrine agents, and beta-endorphin. While it is unlikely that a person would overdose on nicotine through smoking alone, a combination of nicotine patches, nicotine gum and cigarette can lead to an overdose and be lethal.


Radon is a radioactive, colorless, odorless, tasteless noble gas, occurring naturally as the decay product of uranium. It is found in rocks and dirt and can get trapped in houses and buildings causing severing harm to the lungs of those who inhale it. Radon and its decay products emit cancer-causing alpha, beta, and gamma particles that easily get into the lungs of anyone it comes in contact with.


Tar is modified resin produced primarily from the wood and roots of pine by destructive distillation under pyrolysis - a thermochemical decomposition of organic material at elevated temperatures in the absence of oxygen. It is the most destructive component in habitual tobacco smoking, accumulating in the smoker's lungs over time and damaging them through various biochemical and mechanical processes. Tar also damages the mouth by rotting and blackening teeth, damaging gums and blocking papillae and taste buds and the eye's vision. Tar in cigarette smoke paralyzes the cilia in the lungs, and contributes to lung diseases such as emphysema - a severe lung disease in which the tiny air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs become damaged , chronic bronchitis - the inflammation of the bronchi, the main air passages to the lungs , and lung cancer. Tar includes the majority of mutagenic - a physical or chemical agent that changes the genetic material of an organism, and carcinogenic - substance, radionuclide, or radiation that is an agent directly involved in causing cancer, agent in tobacco smoke.

The naturally occurring chemicals are non-destructive by themselves. However, when any of them is combined with other chemicals, which the plant manufacturers such as the cigarette making companies usually do, they become highly dangerous. These combined chemicals are the reason cigarette smoke is so lethal.

All these chemicals are not necessary in order to make cigarettes, and its hard to fathom why they are even used, considering their dangers. The effects of these chemicals on smokers as well as non smokers are staggeringly detrimental; they usually make people more addictive and sick rather than do any real good to the body or the environment. Help yourself and the environment today by quitting smoking. You can do it! Take back your control of you.

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