A cigarette is much more than chopped up tobacco leaves wrapped in paper. Cigarettes release thousands of dangerous chemicals when they burn.

Roll-up tobacco cigarettes are not any safer. They contain the same cancer-causing chemicals as manufactured cigarettes.

What’s in tobacco smoke?

Of the more than 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, at least 250 are known to be harmful, including hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide, and ammonia.

Among the 250 known harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke, at least 69 can cause cancer. These cancer-causing chemicals include the following;

  • Acetaldehyde – Acetaldehyde increases the addictive effect of nicotine, the substance in tobacco that is principally responsible for making smokers dependent on cigarettes. Acetaldehyde can thus cause damage indirectly because it can create a dependency on smoking.
  • Aromatic amines –  Aromatic amines (arylamines) such as o-toluidine, 2-aminonaphthalene, and 4-aminobiphenyl occur in the environment and are constituents of tobacco smoke. Human exposure to these aromatic amines has long been associated with an elevated risk of bladder cancer.
  • Arsenic – Tobacco contains arsenic so the cigarette/cigar/cigarillo/hookah smoke you inhale does too. Smoking makes it harder for your body to get rid of arsenic before it damages your cells. Arsenic exposure and smoking can increase your risk of lung, kidney and bladder cancer, and heart disease.
  • Benzene – tobacco smoke is the most important source of exposure to benzene. It is released in the smoke when tobacco is burned. Non-smokers are also exposed through tobacco smoke when they inhale smoke passively. A typical smoker inhales an average of ten times more benzene per day than a non-smoker.
  • Beryllium (a toxic metal) – Chronic beryllium disease is a progressive systemic hypersensitivity disease affecting the lungs and lymphatic system.
  • Butadiene (a hazardous gas) – Long-term exposure to butadiene can cause cancer in the lymph nodes, blood, and blood-forming tissue, such as leukaemia and lymphoma. Both smokers and passive smokers have increased chances of contracting these illnesses.
  • Cadmium (a toxic metal) – Cadmium in tobacco smoke may contribute to the development of pulmonary emphysema. However, there is poor understanding of the mechanisms behind the pathogenic role of cadmium in this and other smoking-related lung diseases.
  • Chromium (a metallic element)
  • Cumene – It is considered an environmental pollutant because it is a natural component of petroleum and is present in tobacco smoke.
  • Ethylene oxide – Ethylene oxide can be absorbed into the body via inhalation or skin contact causing headache, stomach upset, fitting, coma and heart problems.
  • Formaldehyde – Formaldehyde causes cancer in the nose and trachea and can possibly cause leukaemia. Inhaling formaldehyde from tobacco smoke can also cause irritation of the airways and damage to airway cells. Formaldehyde can also be irritating for the eyes.
  • Nickel (a metallic element) – The tobacco plant contains nickel and several other toxic metals, most probably absorbed from the soil, fertilizing products or from pesticides. It has been stated that nickel in a burning cigarette might form the volatile, gaseous compound, nickel tetracarbonyl, and thereby be introduced into the respiratory tract.
  • Polonium-210 (a radioactive chemical element) – Polonium-210 and lead-210 accumulate for decades in the lungs of smokers. Sticky tar in the tobacco builds up in the small air passageways in the lungs (bronchioles) and radioactive substances get trapped. Over time, these substances can lead to lung cancer.
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) – Several studies show evidence that exposure to PAHs and tobacco smoke in particular can induce epigenetic modification, and such modifications have been found to be associated with asthma.
  • Tobacco-specific nitrosamines – Tobacco nitrosamines play an important role in the pathogenesis of cancer. As a result of metabolic activation, NNK forms DNA adducts and generates hydroxyl radicals or other reactive oxygen species that can further damage DNA and lead to single-strand breaks.
  • Vinyl chloride – Vinyl chloride exposure is associated with an increased risk of a rare form of liver cancer (hepatic angiosarcoma), as well as brain and lung cancers, lymphoma, and leukaemia.

What’s in an e-cigarette?

In the UK, e-cigarettes are tightly regulated for safety and quality.

Vaping is not completely risk-free, but it poses a small fraction of the risk of smoking cigarettes. The long-term risks of vaping are not yet clear.

E-cigarettes do not produce tar or carbon monoxide, two of the most harmful elements in tobacco smoke.

The liquid and vapour contain some potentially harmful chemicals also found in cigarette smoke, but at a much lower level.

What about risks from nicotine?

While nicotine is the addictive substance in cigarettes, most of the harm from smoking comes from the thousands of other chemicals in tobacco smoke, many of which are toxic.

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) has been widely used for many years to help people stop smoking and is a safe treatment.

Is e-cigarette vapour harmful to others?

There’s no evidence so far that vaping cause’s harm to other people around you.

This is in contrast to passive smoking (second-hand smoke), which is known to be very harmful to health.

*Source NHS England

Vaping to quit smoking

There’s some confusion and misleading information about vaping, which can make it difficult to work out what’s true or not.

Nicotine vaping is substantially less harmful than smoking. It’s also one of the most effective tools for quitting smoking.

Vaping is not recommended for non-smokers and young people because it is not completely harmless.

Here you will find the facts on vaping, based on scientific evidence and research, plus advice on how to use vapes (sometimes called e-cigarettes or e-cigs) as a tool to quit smoking.