What Actually Is This Stuff I’m Smoking?


In the battle to stop smoking it’s worth reflecting occasionally on what is actually in the smoke that we smokers inhale or share with those around us through passive smoking. Have a look at some of these ingredients and think – do you really want them pumping around your body?

Tobacco smoke contains around 4,000 different chemicals, many of them are poisonous and as we all know, some can cause cancer. Three of the main components of tobacco smoke are:

• Nicotine – a powerful, addictive drug which increases the heart rate, raises blood pressure and affects our mood and behaviour. It’s a sobering thought (or should be ) that nicotine is also used as an insecticide.

• Tar – which contains substances known to cause cancer and can also damage the lungs.

• Carbon monoxide – this gas takes the place of oxygen in the blood, making our lungs less efficient and stopping cells and tissues getting the oxygen they need to work properly. You may also recognise it as the poisonous gas found in car exhaust fumes.

There are a number of other chemicals in tobacco smoke which should also cause you to think twice before lighting up. These include:

• Benzene – a poisonous gas found in petrol fumes and linked leukaemia.

• Ethanol – commonly used in anti-freeze.

• Ammonia – used in many cleaning products.

• Formaldehyde – also used as an embalming fluid.

• Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) – a cancer- causing chemical also found in diesel exhaust and other combustion products.

• Sulphuric acid – used in car batteries

• Hydrogen cyanide – an industrial pollutant

• Arsenic – do I need to introduce this one? 

But, not only are we smokers slowly introducing this unpleasant cocktail of chemicals into our own bodies, we are also sharing it with friends, neighbors, colleagues and our kids. Medical experts suggest that there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke as it causes indoor air pollution, worsens illnesses such as asthma for sufferers, and also increases the chance of cancers and heart disease for non-smokers breathing in the fumes. It is also worth noting that passive smokers breathe in smoke from the end of a burning cigarette or cigar which contains more toxins and nicotine than mainstream smoke.  

Most of us realize that smoking isn't good for us. Our doctors tell us, our friends and family will tell us pretty much the same. But we carry on, either oblivious to the health risks or willing to gamble just because we need that hit of nicotine so many times a day. Take a look at some of those chemicals again though. And think about it.


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