What’s in a cigarette?

Tobacco smoke is both toxic and addictive. Find out more about the lethal chemical cocktail inside cigarettes.

Tobacco smoke contains around 7,000 chemicals. Many of these are poisonous and over 60 are known to be cancer causing (carcinogenic). No wonder so many smokers would like help quitting.

The chemical constituents of cigarettes include:

Nicotine

Nicotine is a colourless, poisonous alkaloid derived from the tobacco plant. It is a powerful drug, which affects the brain and quickly becomes addictive.

Tar

‘Tar’ is the term used to describe the toxic chemicals found in cigarettes. It’s a sticky brown substance that forms when tobacco cools and condenses. It collects in the lungs and can cause cancer.

Carbon monoxide

An odourless, colourless gas that is released from burning tobacco. When it is inhaled it enters the blood stream and interferes with the working of the heart and the blood vessels. Up to 15% of a smoker’s blood can be carrying carbon monoxide instead of oxygen.

Arsenic

Arsenic-containing pesticides used in tobacco farming occur in small quantities in cigarette smoke. Arsenic is commonly found in rat poison.

Ammonia

Ammonia is a toxic, colourless gas with a sharp odour. Ammonia compounds are commonly used in cleaning products and fertilisers. Also used to boost the impact of nicotine in manufactured cigarettes.

Acetone

Fragrant volatile liquid ketone, used as a solvent. Nail polish remover is a solvent, for example.

Toluene

Toluene is a highly toxic chemical. Industrial uses include rubbers, oils, resins, adhesives, inks, detergents, dyes and explosives.

Methylamine

Chemical found in tanning lotion.

Pesticides

A number of pesticides (toxic chemicals used to kill pests, usually insects) are present in cigarette smoke. These pesticides find their way into cigarettes because they’re used on tobacco plants as they are growing.

Polonium – 210

Radioactive element – used in nuclear weapons as well as an atomic heat source.

Methanol

Fuel used in the aviation industry.

Contact us

For information and support on how to quit smoking, call the National Smokers' Quitline on 1800 201 203, request a call-back from our smoking cessation team or visit Quit.ie