The main ingredient in cigarettes is tobacco. It sounds so harmless when stated that way. Yet we all know that smoking can lead to so many health problems that you almost need an encyclopedia to list them all. There are many legal and illegal drugs that can be addictive. Heroin, cocaine, PCP, methamphetamines, and OxyContin are just a few. With the exception of alcohol, none are as socially acceptable as cigarettes.
I don’t know of anyone who sits around the table at Thanksgiving or Christmas with family or friends and clinks syringes together to celebrate. Yet it is common to do so with alcohol. It is just as common to light up a cigarette after a meal, either inside the house, outside on a porch, or at another designated smoking area. The same could be said for work breaks: co-workers won’t sit together in a hut and pass prescription pills around, but they may bum cigarettes from one another. They will certainly smoke in groups as they complain about the frustrations of the day (ie: the boss, clients, or other co-workers).
According to Quit Smoking Support, Cigarette smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals, including 43 known cancer-causing (carcinogenic) compounds and 400 other toxins. Ingredients include nicotine, a stimulant drug that reaches the brain in just 6 seconds and also the main reason that cigarettes are so addictive.
What chemicals are found in Cigarettes?
Here are some of the more notorious ones.
- Tar: produced by burning tobacco. It can rot the teeth and damage gums, as well as cause emphysema and other issues. It is not the same as road tar.
- Carbon monoxide: one of the main byproduct of smoking. It’s odorless and tasteless, and commonly present in car exhaust or other engine exhaust.
- Formaldehyde: a chemical used for embalming dead bodies so they stay preserved.
- Ammonia: a common, industrial cleaning solution
- Cyanide: a deadly poison. It was often handed out in pill form in World War 2 for soldiers to take to commit suicide if they were captured.
- Acetone: a nail polish remover.
- Arsenic: Per Wikipedia, it is a lead alloy that is used often in car batteries or making ammunition. It has also been used in pesticides or treating wood products.
- DDT: an insecticide that has been banned or highly restricted in several countries. Its use has often leaked its way into tobacco plants.
- Benzene: a fuel solvent that is found in rubber cement, and believed to be linked to leukemia.
That list should scare any smoker. I wouldn’t go huff on the back end of a Chevy Malibu, but for some reason the idea of sucking down a cigarette doesn’t seem as bad. It goes to show how powerful a smoking addiction can be: even the knowledge of what cigarettes contain won’t stop someone from lighting up.
Are Cigarettes the Most Addictive Drugs?
Even with a wealth of help and resources available to quit smoking, I know of many people who still cannot do so. It becomes engrained in the mind of a smoker to have a cigarette, especially on certain occasions. We each have routines. For smokers, cigarettes become a part of the routine.
What are some common times when people want a cigarette? They often include: after a morning cup of coffee, on the way into work, at breaks, after a meal, after sex, and usually at least every hour as the brain craves more nicotine. The association between these events and the craving for a cigarette can often be very strong and very hard to break.
Even once smokers have stopped for extended periods of time, it becomes very difficult to stay stopped. If someone has friends who smoke, they may be offered a cigarette as a courtesy. Or, even if no one offers one, it is fairly easy to ask a friend for one and have your request granted with little or no complaint. Even total strangers will hand out cigarettes when asked under the right circumstances.
The Social Reality of Cigarettes
Smoking is one of the few addictions where a person can feed their need without receiving a slap on the wrist from a friend or relative, or face a legal problem. If you are in public, it isn’t even an issue. The police won’t come after you if you smoke. The same cannot be said of other drugs, or even alcohol most of the time. Usually, smoking in public only becomes a problem when people do not properly dispose of their cigarette butts, or are too close to the entrance of certain buildings that prohibit it.
Nor is it obvious when a person is affected by cigarettes, other than the smell. A smoker won’t nod off from nicotine like they would with opioids. They won’t slur their speech or stagger around. In truth, there are few, obvious signs that a person has been smoking. This means they can smoke all day and it never becomes problematic for others.
The Routine of Smoking
I have known smokers who’ve kicked heroin, alcohol, and any number of other drugs. Even after years of being sober/clean of other substances, smoking is still their one major addiction. Many have tried countless times to stop, too. Vaping has become a popular alternative to smoking, but even it is not a guarantee that smokers won’t return to cigarettes. How often do we see a person who still continues to smoke, even after having serious health issue? I have seen people still smoking after being hooked to oxygen tanks. I have even heard of a friend’s relative who blew her house up by smoking while hooked to oxygen. She passed away from the accident and essentially clung to her cigarettes to the very end.
Smoking is legal for anyone 18+. It is socially acceptable (for the most part). It is easy to obtain cigarettes. Friends and family often won’t say anything to someone who smokes, other than the typical “you should quit that,” and in many cases they can enable smokers to not stop. The drugs contained in cigarettes are extremely addictive. Mentally, smoking becomes a routine that is a part of a person’s everyday life. I believe it is all of these factors that combine to make cigarettes the most addictive drug.
Quit Smoking Support
Cigarette Ingredient image from:
Risks of Smoking image from: