Each day in the United States, more than 1,300 people die because of cigarette smoking, and more than 300 kids under age 18 become daily smokers.1 In an effort to bring the number of smokers in the U.S. down to zero, on November 17, 2016, people across the country will join the Great American Smokeout: a movement spearheaded by the American Cancer Society, in which people across the country pledge to make a plan to quit smoking. But for many, quitting feels like an impossible task, and unfortunately, this may be by design.
How Cigarettes are Made
We recently launched a new infographic, "How a Cigarette is Engineered," highlighting some of the reasons quitting smoking can be difficult. It's not only because cigarettes contain the addictive chemical nicotine—which keeps people smoking even when they don't want to be2—but also because the design and content of cigarettes continue to make them addictive and attractive to consumers.
What exactly are you smoking when you smoke a cigarette? You inhale everything that is burned—the tobacco filler, the paper–even the chemicals that form when the cigarette is lit. While that may be an unappealing thought, the mix of more than 7,000 chemicals2 that smokers inhale in the smoking process is downright deadly.
Let's begin with the filter. Typically made from bundles of thin fibers, the filter is located at the holding end of the cigarette and is meant to minimize the amount of smoke inhaled. The design of modern cigarette filters only prevents a nominal portion of smoke from being inhaled.
Wrapped around the filter is the tipping paper, which contains small ventilation (vent) holes. The purpose of vent holes is to allow fresh air in to mix with smoke, diluting the toxic mix of chemicals inhaled. Unfortunately, vent holes are usually located where you would hold the cigarette, and often get blocked by your fingers or lips, making them largely ineffective. They may also lead you to inhale more deeply, pulling dangerous chemicals farther into your lungs.3
Cigarette Paper and Tobacco Filler
Below the filter and the tipping paper is the cigarette paper, which contains added chemicals to control how quickly the cigarette burns.
Within the cigarette paper is the tobacco filler itself, which is comprised of chopped tobacco leaves, stems, reprocessed pieces, and scraps. Dangerous chemicals can form in and be deposited on tobacco during processing. What's more is that when the tobacco filler is burned, other hazardous chemicals are created and breathed into your lungs.
Not only are chemicals created in the processing and the burning of tobacco filler, but manufacturers may also add hundreds of ingredients to a cigarette to make smoking more appealing and mask the harsh flavor and sensation of smoke. Flavor additives like menthol and sugar may be added to cigarettes to change the taste of smoke and make it easier to inhale. These and other additives may make cigarette smoke more palatable, but no less harmful. Cigarettes that are less harsh and easier to inhale may appeal to new smokers, especially adolescents, because they are easier to smoke.4
Other chemicals may also be added to tobacco in an effort to optimize nicotine delivery and lung absorption. Ammonia—a chemical found in cleaning products—and other additives may be added to cigarette tobacco and may increase nicotine absorption, making cigarettes more addictive. Some additives are bronchodilators that can open the lungs and increase the amount of dangerous chemicals that are absorbed.
Given this information, it becomes clear that a cigarette is not just tobacco wrapped in paper. Its design and content make it alluring and addictive. And when you inhale its smoke, you take in every part of the cigarette.
Make a Plan to Quit
Because the design and content of cigarettes make them addictive, quitting—an already difficult task—is that much harder. But quitting smoking is not impossible.
The process to quit smoking can be an arduous one, both physically and emotionally, and it may take you several tries to reach success. Today, there are more former smokers than current smokers.5 If you are a smoker, with support and resources, you too can one day say you are a former smoker.
Order copies of our new infographic or download and share it on social media. You can also find resources from our federal partners to help you quit.
1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, SAMHSA, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality; 2018. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/cbhsq-reports/NSDUHDetailedTabs2017/NSDUHDetailedTabs2017.pdf. Accessed October 12, 2018. (Original Data Source: NSDUH 2017, Table 4.10A)
2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS). A Report of the Surgeon General: How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: What It Means to You (Consumer Booklet). Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health; 2010.
3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS). Let's Make the Next Generation Tobacco-Free: Your Guide to the 50th Anniversary Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health (Consumer Booklet). Atlanta, GA: US Dept of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health; 2014.
4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS). A Report of the Surgeon General: Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults: We CAN Make the Next Generation Tobacco-Free (Consumer Booklet). Atlanta, GA: US Dept of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health; 2012.
5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS). The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress. A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: US Dept of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health; 2014.