What Do Cigarettes, Cigars, and Beedi Cigarettes Contain?

Depending on the area of the world and the culture concerned, people smoke all different types of substances at wildly varying rates. This article will explain to you what is in cigarettes, cigars, and Indian beedi cigarettes, 3 of the most smoked products.

What Cigarettes Are Made Of

Cigarettes are made up of tobacco; nicotine; tar; arsenic; acetone; and additives, like flavor and texture agents.

The combustion of a lighted cigarette produces smoke, which becomes, according to many experts, a "genuine chemical plant." Combustion of a cigarette involves the formation of many toxic chemicals, with some 4000 different substances being present and produced in the cigarette smoke. Of these chemicals more than 40 are carcinogenic.

Lighting a cigarette produces benzene, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, hydrocyanic acid, ammonia, and mercury, as well as other harmful metals, such as lead, cadmium, and chromium. When a cigarette is smoked, the chemicals get mixed together and form a sticky tar. Cadmium is a heavy metal, which, if ingested typically requires 70 years to be eliminated by the body.

N.B. Never let a cigarette stand smoldering for any length of time in an ashtray as the substances released in its smoke are even more toxic than those that are normally inhaled.

What Are the Effects of Nicotine?

Nicotine itself is not carcinogenic. Nicotine, which is highly addictive, is added to cigarettes making smokers dependent on them. As a result, it exposes the smoker to all of the many toxic substances and carcinogens mentioned above.

Nicotine stimulates the nervous system and provokes a strong dependence close to, or even higher than, that caused by heroin or cocaine. It take only 8 seconds for nicotine to reach the brain, where it instantly gives the smoker a pleasurable and relaxing sensation. Nicotine acts on the brain by reducing stress as well as giving a happy feeling or a stimulant effect.

Nicotine also causes harmful cardiovascular effects by increasing the smoker's heart rate and narrowing and hardening the arteries. This causes poor blood flow to extremities such as the hands and feet.

Nicotine is present naturally in tobacco and its concentration varies throughout the plant. It is also added during the manufacturing of cigarettes.


The tar present in tobacco smoke is composed of many carcinogenic chemical substances, among which the most important are hydrocarbons, benzene, and inorganic compounds. Tar is the substance that is principally responsible for nicotine-related cancers.

The tar comes from the combustion of the cigarette and tends to stick to the inside walls of the mouth, the pharynx, and the bronchial tube.

A person who smokes a packet of cigarettes a day inhales into their lungs approximately 250 ml of tar per year.

Carbon Monoxide (CO)

Carbon monoxide molecules attach themselves to the hemoglobin of the red blood cells and reduce the transportation of oxygen to the body tissue. It causes the occurrence of hypoxia, where there is a reduction in the number of red blood cells in blood. As a result it increases the heart rate, causing breathlessness, coughing bouts, and other cardiovascular symptoms, as well as the risk of increasing a cardiovascular event.

The carbon monoxide produced is similar to that emitted by the exhaust fumes of cars. Smokers who draw strongly on their cigarettes add more CO to their hemoglobin.

It takes between 4 to 6 hours to eliminate carbon monoxide from the bloodstream.


Additives are substances added to the tobacco in cigarettes. Certain additives themselves release dangerous components during combustion.


Acetone, phenols, and hydrocyanic acid are all irritants that can attack the walls of the bronchi, the nose, and the eyes. Hydrocyanic acid, more commonly known as Prussic acid, is one of the most toxic products found in tobacco smoke.


Cigars are more toxic than cigarettes. This is partly because the smoke produced by cigars is not filtered, as is often the case for cigarettes (with filter tips).

Nicotine levels vary according to the type of cigar. The tobacco leaf wrapped round the cigar prevents the evaporation of the noxious substances produced by the combustion.

The risk of lung cancer and bad cardiovascular effects increases with the number of cigars smoked. The risk of lung cancer is multiplied by a factor of 3 because cigar smokers typically inhale the smoke very deeply into their lungs. The risks of developing a cancer of the mouth, larynx, or pharynx is multiplied by a factor of 4 compared to a non-smoker as cigar smokers tend to hold the inhaled smoke in their mouths for long periods.

The type of tobacco used in cigars is richer in N-Nitrosonornicotine (NNN), a high Group 1- classified carcinogen.

Light-Brand Cigarettes

Many experts have highlighted the toxicity of so-called light cigarettes: smoking such cigarettes shows no beneficial effects over smoking normal, non-light, ones.

These "light" cigarettes are both harmful and toxic, because they also cause an additional type of lung cancer. The filter present in these cigarettes is peppered with small holes to allow air in and the smoke to pass out. But these orifices very soon clog up and as a consequence cannot fulfil their function, which originally gave them the classification of being "light".

To satisfy their nicotine craving, smokers of branded "light" cigarettes tend to inhale more deeply and smoke more often. The pharmacological dependence on nicotine pushes smokers of light cigarettes to always inhale more deeply, exposing the pulmonary alveoli and the small bronchi to high amounts of toxic compounds present in the smoke. This may lead to the formation of a malignant lung tumour of the adenocarcinoma-type.

Beedi Cigarettes

Beedi cigarettes are artisanal Indian cigarettes that are flavored and filterless made up of tobacco wrapped in eucalyptus leaves. They produce 3 times more carbon monoxide and nicotine and 5 times more tar than normal cigarettes. The absence of a filter and the poor porosity of the leaf used to wrap the tobacco causes the smoker to inhale more frequently and more deeply if the cigarette is to remain alight.

Studies revealed that the risks of lung, mouth, esophagus and stomach cancer were higher than for a non-smoker. The risk of myocardial infarction is 3 times higher than for a non-smoker and there is a risk 4 times higher of chronic bronchitis.

Rubbing Tobacco

The increasing price of tobacco is forcing smokers to roll their own cigarettes using ready rubbed or loose tobacco. Most smokers of rolled cigarettes are not aware of the risks of ready rubbed tobacco.

Rolling tobacco is four times more harmful than normal cigarette tobacco. Ready rubbed tobacco is a toxic product, which releases more cancerogenic compounds than most normal cigarettes.

It contains 4 to 6 times more nicotine and tar and usually does not have a filter.

Image: © Tatiana Popova - 123RF.com
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