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article imageOp-Ed: 4000 chemicals in cigarettes and tobacco’s the problem?

By Paul Wallis     Feb 9, 2013 in Health
Sydney - The Australian government official campaign refers to thousands of chemicals, some dangerous, in cigarettes. This is a health warning, in effect warning people that toxins in consumer products are allowed on the market by the government.
Let’s start with the basics of tobacco, nicotine and addiction.
Tobacco is a plant of the family Nicotiania. It contains nicotinic acid, which can be used as a pesticide and which when oxidized forms an analogue of Vitamin B3 as oxidized nicotinic acid. That’s why it’s addictive. You can only get addicted to drugs which are similar to body chemicals. Opiates, for example, are addictive because they’re very similar to endorphins, the body’s own pain killers.
(Just for the record, I’m a qualified horticulturalist.)
So in theory, nicotine is a fully metabolizable material. Not a problem, you’d think, until you notice the Australian research which adds thousands of different chemicals, some of which are highly toxic, to the average cigarette.
The list of chemicals in cigarettes put together by the Australian National Drug Strategy includes some rather strange inclusions and some bizarre materials.
Carbon monoxide- You get carbon monoxide the minute you burn anything with carbon in it. You could say the same thing about a barbecue, but the barbecue, particularly if using firelighters, contains a lot more CO than any cigarette could. Your car produces a few kg of CO a week, and you breathe that in whether you’re a smoker or not.
Ammonia- A product of nitrogen, which is contained in all plants. You could smoke a rhododendron and get ammonia. Ammonia is a very important organic chemical, involved in a range of biological functions.
The others aren’t so hilarious and have nothing to do with the tobacco plant. They’re also 100% unnecessary in producing tobacco for consumption:
Acetone- A dangerous chemical which can affect human tissue.
Methanol- Another dangerous chemical with a really nasty side.
Pesticides- All agricultural products have some form of pesticide. They’re usually removed from products before going on the market, though.
Arsenic and cyanide- Hardly essential, dangerous as oxides, and they’re allowed on the market?
Butane- Another dangerous non-essential.
Cadmium- A heavy metal, also not required for smoking.
Nicotine and DDT- Nicotine? You don’t say? …And by the way, DDT was banned decades ago. It’s illegal, and the government is acknowledging that all these toxic compounds are permitted in a regulated substance?
Tar- If it’s ordinary tar like bitumen as the ad suggests, it contains a lot of carbon which can have obvious health issues if oxidized.
At this point the question has to be asked- What’s more dangerous, the tobacco or this gigantic chemistry lesson which the government, for no obvious reason permits to be contained in a consumer product?
All the non-tobacco-derived products are quite unnecessary, anyway. According to urban myth, the tobacco companies included them in cigarettes to make them burn better.
That’s not entirely surprising. Tailor made cigarettes contain the low quality tobacco. Dried, chopped, more or less wood shavings. Compared to pure tobacco leaf, most tailor made cigarettes are garbage.
I’ve grown, cut, and cured Havana tobacco. All you need is some sugar and water to cure it, and an oven to dry it. There’s no need whatsoever for any of the additives, at all. You can smoke it straight out of the oven like a normal cigarette. Actually, all you do by adding anything unnecessary to any consumer product is drive up costs. The sugar, incidentally, burns a lot hotter than the chemicals supposed to help it burn.
Smokers please note that these particular additives are not at all good for you. Some of them cause instant discomfort like headaches, etc.
Interesting picture so far, isn’t it? Let’s move on to other user issues.
*Why do people smoke? Because it relaxes them. That’s part of the role of B3.
*Why do people get addicted? Because they get a fast hit and grow more receptors. (The same thing happens with heroin.)
*Do people get withdrawals? Yes. Very unpleasant, annoying, withdrawals.
*Are tailor made cigarettes the same thing as uncut, pure tobacco? Of course not. They’re chemistry labs by comparison.
Now the regulatory issues-
Why are so many toxic chemicals permitted at all in a consumer product? There’s no agricultural or production-related justification at all for their presence.
If the government is aware of these hazards, labelling isn’t the same thing as regulating them. Quite the opposite, many of these chemicals are classified as hazardous under Australian laws. Permitting them to be present in commercial consumer products is in effect breaching those laws.
So- Is the Australian government regulating tobacco? According to it, it is.
Which raises the question of legal liability for allowing hazardous chemicals into consumer products. If the government is aware of the presence of hazardous materials in consumer products in the case of tobacco, it can:
 Demand that the products are changed to eliminate the chemical hazards.
 Require certification of chemical constituents.
 Regulate tobacco to require that only tobacco leaf is present in the products.
Failure to do so may incur direct legal liability in that the government has effectively permitted poisons to be sold on the consumer market. It’s reasonable to assume that the government permits sale of tobacco in the full knowledge of the presence of known toxins in the products.
So what’s it going to be, regulators? How many double standards equate to effective regulation? Which is more dangerous to consumers, that list of chemicals or the tobacco?
The Australian government is now looking at regulating the taste of tobacco to make it taste bad. The problem with that is that most flavouring can be easily diluted with certain additives, and that many types of commercial flavouring are themselves toxic if oxidized.
Talking about bad taste- Missing your own point so thoroughly about tobacco health hazards in the form of added chemicals is very distasteful. You might want to do something about that.
Just one more question- If all these chemicals have been included in cigarettes, is it the tobacco that’s dangerous, or them? Have there been any studies to directly link the effects of these chemicals to those attributed to tobacco?
If not, why not?
If so, why haven’t findings been made public?
What’s the health equation between “tobacco” and “cigarettes full of things they don’t need”?
I would suggest that the indicators will show that the chemicals do more damage than the tobacco is capable of doing.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about quit smoking campaign, Australian government drug strategy, chemicals in cigarettes, regulation of consumer products, hazardous chemicals in cigarettes
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