May 22, 2024

Tobacco has been in use for a long time, either chewed, smoked in a pipe, hand-rolled, or snorted. In 1881, the cigarette-rolling machine was invented and for about 138 years now the cigarette has been mass-produced and is the most popular way of consuming tobacco. Nowadays, millions smoke cigarettes and quit rate is only as low as three to four percent despite medical and other innovations to encourage quitting.
So what’s in a cigarette? A cigarette is comprised of a tobacco portion, a paper wrap, and a filter.
The tobacco portion is not made of pure tobacco.It is made of three parts: tobacco leaf, expanded tobacco, and reconstituted tobacco.
Expanded tobacco (also called puffed tobacco) is made from tobacco leaf parts which are saturated or filled up with freon and ammonia gases then freeze-dried to increase their size or volume to almost twice their original size. This helps in the production of more cigarettes.
Reconstituted tobacco (also called homogenized sheet tobacco) is a paper product made from the pulp of mashed tobacco stems and other parts of tobacco leaf that may be discarded. This reconstituted paper is sprayed with nicotine and about 600 chemical additives like ammonia. Chocolate is also added to mask the bitter taste of tobacco.This reconstituted paper is then made to look like shredded tobacco leaf.
The white paper wrap not only serves to hold the tobacco parts together but also controls the rate at which the cigarette burns and the amount of smoke that is produced. It has burn rings for these purposes. The paper contains chemicals like titanium oxide which can speed up and maintain burning of the cigarette and helps ensure that smoke is delivered evenly with each puff.
The filter in most cigarettes is made of dense synthetic fibers. Ventilation holes are found around its tip, varying from one to three rings of holes. These holes allow fresh air into the smoke and thus seem to lower the tar and nicotine content when used with machines. In actual use these holes are often covered by smokers’ fingers or lips as they puff and the doses of nicotine and tar could be higher. Charcoal has been added to the filters of some brands of cigarette to decrease toxins in the smoke but no randomized controlled trials prove that they reduce the risks associated with smoking.
Lighting the tip of a cigarette starts combustion that produces high temperatures. The temperature at the burning tip is more than 600 degrees centigrade and when air is drawn through the cigarette during a puff, the temperature increases to more than 800 degrees centigrade. The heat breaks down the tobacco components and generates ash and smoke. The smoke produced contains a mixture of more than 6000 chemicals several of which are harmful and classified as likely causes of lung disease and cancer.
Nicotine is the addictive substance in the cigarette. Once inhaled, its effects are fast- it changes the balance of 2 chemicals in the brain – dopamine and noradrenaline – leading to changes in mood and concentration, producing feelings of pleasure or high and decreases anxiety or stress. This is often called nicotine kick or nicotine rush. The more one smokes, the more that his or her brain becomes dependent on it. Nicotine cravings can become strong and quitting becomes difficult. Decrease in blood nicotine levels leads to anxiety, depression, and irritability. Electronic cigarettes in some studies may have helped smokers quit cigarette smoking but its safety has been questioned and is being re-evaluated worldwide because of its association with sudden lung disease that can be serious and deadly. Its use is banned in countries like the United Kingdom and Singapore and now in our own country. In other countries, it is still in use but regulations and restrictions are being studied and applied. It is best not to start the habit of smoking.

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