What Are the Most Addictive Chemicals in Cigarettes?

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Approximately 50,000 non-smokers die annually from secondhand smoke-related illnesses.
Approximately 50,000 non-smokers die annually from secondhand smoke-related illnesses. (Image: Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

Creating a bond between New World settlers and Native Americans, tobacco was not an early source of addiction. Used to draw out infection and grown as a ground-cover crop, tobacco was a primary source of organic pesticides. Since the Civil War, tobacco's effect on the heart and nervous system enhanced focus and relieved stress. Nicotine continues to maintain control over smokers despite centuries of addiction and abuse.

Cigarette Ingredients

There are many varieties of cigarettes and cigars, but they all contain tar, tobacco, carbon monoxide and ammonia. In addition to nicotine, cigarette chemical additives include ethyl acetate, water, sucrose, invert sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Depending on the brand and manufacturer, cigarettes may also contain propylene glycol, glycerol, licorice extract, cocoa and cocoa products, carob bean extract, natural and artificial flavors, according to the cigarette manufacturer Phillip Morris. Menthol and non-menthol cigarettes have similar amounts of nicotine. Filters do not decrease the amount of inhaled nicotine because the tiny air holes placed in filters to reduce the effects of nicotine are covered by the smoker's fingers.

Nicotine

Containing approximately .002 ounces of nicotine, one pack of 20 cigarettes provides approximately .71 ounces of nicotine per day. Smokers inhale the equivalent of 16 pounds a year of this addicting substance. Nicotine increases the heart rate by flooding the bloodstream with carbon monoxide. It also loads the blood vessels and lungs with tar. The addictive quality of nicotine causes the body to crave the continued adrenaline rush. A state of heightened awareness results from the activation of the brain’s pleasure center. Stimulation and relaxation occur as a person’s heart rate increases and her lungs fill with carbon monoxide. Eventually, smokers require the addicting effects of nicotine to wake, fall asleep, concentrate, manage stress, socialize and regulate the digestive system.

Cigars are made from rolled and dried tobacco leaves.
Cigars are made from rolled and dried tobacco leaves. (Image: Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Sugar

Sugar is a common ingredient in tobacco products. Cigarettes contain approximately 20 percent sugar, either as high fructose corn syrup, licorice, cocoa or carob. Since manufacturers do not provide exact ingredient measurements, 20 cigarettes per day adds at least 3 pounds of sugar ingested through tobacco smoke each year. The effects of 3 pounds of additional sugar per year to a person with diabetes could be significant. Sugar increases the sweet flavor in cigarettes and cigars, making them more palatable.

Withdrawal

When an individual tries to quit, he loses access to the heart-racing and blood-pumping affects of nicotine. Without a healthy alternative, such as exercise, the nervous system will continue to crave those exhilarating and calming effects from nicotine's effect on the nervous system.

Cigarette withdrawal can cause symptoms of irritability, lack of concentration, sleep disturbances, increased appetite and cravings for tobacco. Nicotine is highly addictive, therefore, smokers are often unsuccessful in their first few attempts to quit. There are effective treatments, however, to help smokers manage these symptoms of withdrawal and improve their success at quitting smoking.

Complications from years of tobacco use can cause serious medical conditions that last beyond the withdrawal, such as heart disease, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and a variety of cancers.

Overcoming tobacco dependence requires evaluating the behaviors and routines associated with smoking.
Overcoming tobacco dependence requires evaluating the behaviors and routines associated with smoking. (Image: Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images)

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