Cigarettes contain hundreds of chemical additives to preserve flavor and enhance nicotine absorption. Many of these chemicals can cause cancer.

Nicotine and tobacco are the primary ingredients most people associate with cigarettes. Those ingredients are present in cigarettes, but they’re far from the only ones.

Over 600 ingredients are present in a cigarette and many of them are known toxins and carcinogens.

The exact formulation of a cigarette varies by brand, but some of the additives commonly found in cigarettes include harmful chemicals such as arsenic, acetone, lead, and formaldehyde.

There are over 600 ingredients in a cigarette. When cigarettes are lit, burning these ingredients creates thousands of additional chemical compounds.

The tobacco in cigarettes is commonly a blend of two different tobacco leaves: bright tobacco and burly tobacco leaves. The nicotine content of cigarettes is found in these tobacco leaves.

Cigarettes also contain fillers made from stems and other parts of the tobacco pants that are mixed with water, flavorings, and additives.

The exact recipe for this filler depends on the brand. Some cigarettes are dense and contain more tar while others use porous paper that can dilute the nicotine and tar.

No matter the exact formulation, many chemicals and additives found in cigarettes can be toxic.

Some of these chemicals might sound familiar because they’re also found in other products, but people don’t usually inhale those.

For instance, cigarettes can contain the same ammonia often used to clean and disinfect surfaces.

Other toxic chemicals found in cigarettes include:

  • Acetone: Acetone is commonly found in nail polish remover.
  • Acetic acid: This chemical is a common ingredient in hair dye.
  • Arsenic: Arsenic is a poisonous substance.
  • Butane: You can also find butane in lighter fluid.
  • Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde is used in laboratories and mortuaries as an embalming fluid.
  • Lead and cadmium: Lead is used in batteries, and cadmium is found in battery acid.
  • Toluene: Toluene is used to make paint.

Language matters

Most of the time you hear the word “chemicals” it’s probably related to a dangerous one, but it’s worth noting that not all chemicals are toxic. Without some chemicals (like oxygen), life as we know it would not be possible.

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The additives in cigarettes are known to cause harm to the body. At least 70 of the chemicals found in tobacco smoke share a link to cancer. Heavy exposure to these chemicals can change your DNA. This causes atypical cell behavior and can lead to cancer.

The toxic chemicals in cigarettes can also stop your cells from repairing themselves and repairing damaged DNA. This increases the risk of cancer. But cancer isn’t the only risk from the additives in cigarettes. They can also lead to:

  • Damage to your cilia: Cilia are the filters that help keep your airways clean and clear. When they become damaged, toxic chemicals can build up. This can lead to a chronic cough and recurrent infections.
  • Immune system damage: The toxins in cigarettes can change how your immune system works, making it less effective. They can also cause inflammation. Over time, this can damage your DNA.
  • Increased nicotine absorption: Some of the dangerous chemicals in cigarettes allow your body to take in more nicotine with each one you smoke. This can make cigarettes more addictive. It can also increase the harmful effects of nicotine you experience.

Some people believe that rolling your own cigarettes is safer. But this isn’t true.

In fact, rolling your own cigarettes is just as, if not more, harmful than manufactured cigarettes.

Roll-it-yourself tobacco contains more additives because it needs preservatives to prevent the leaves from drying. It also typically contains more flavorings.

Roll-it-yourself tobacco generally contains the same amount of nicotine found in manufactured cigarettes. Some people try to counteract this by rolling thinner cigarettes, but this can be dangerous, too.

Smoking thinner cigarettes can require harder inhalations that send more tar into your lungs.

Changing your relationship with tobacco

The decision to quit smoking is one of the most important steps you can take for your health. It can also be challenging and overwhelming. But you don’t have to take the journey alone.

When you’re ready to change your relationship with tobacco, there are some great resources you can look into for support.

  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency (SAMHSA) Hotline: SAMHSA offers a free hotline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week that will connect you with local treatment programs, support groups, counseling services, and more. You can reach them by calling 1-800-622-HELP (4357) or by using their online locator.
  • offers guidance and support for people who are ready to quit smoking. The site has general guides as well as guides for people in specific groups, including veterans, adults over 60, women, and teens.
  • The National Texting Portal: For free support right from your phone, you can text this free line provided by The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). You can reach the line at any time of day or night by texting QUITNOW to 333888.
  • The quitSTART app: The quitSTART app is another great free phone-based option. The app is designed to keep you motivated with progress-tracking tools and tips to help you manage cravings. It’s available in both the Apple and GooglePlay stores.
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Cigarettes contain over 600 ingredients. The exact formula depends on the brands, but additives commonly include toxic chemicals such as ammonia, lead, butane, and arsenic.

The nicotine and additives in cigarettes share a link to cancer and a range of other negative health effects.

The additives are still present in roll-it-yourself cigarettes, making them just as dangerous as manufactured cigarettes.