Important Facts About Clove Cigarettes

whole cloves and ground powdered cloves
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A reader asks:

I smoke clove cigarettes, and I've heard that they're safer than smoking regular cigarettes. I know that conventional cigarettes have many toxic chemicals in them, while clove cigarettes are more natural. If that's true, aren't clove cigarettes better for me?

Clove cigarettes, also known as kreteks (pronounced cree-teks), are often mistakenly thought of as a safe smoking alternative, but they are not.

Produced in Indonesia and distributed worldwide, kreteks are typically made of up of approximately 60 to 80% tobacco, 20 to 40% ground clove buds and clove oil. Sometimes additional spices like cumin, cinnamon, and nutmeg are also added.

Usually machine-rolled, clove cigarettes come with or without filters. While kreteks do not contain the thousands of toxic chemicals that traditional cigarettes do, they are far from healthy.

Cigarettes With Training Wheels

Like bidi cigarettes, it's not uncommon for clove cigarettes to be a young person's first introduction to tobacco. Between the spiced flavor of cloves and the colorful packaging, this type of cigarette is aimed directly at young smokers and is considered a "gateway" product.

The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (Tobacco Control Act) of 2009, which now prohibits the sale of flavored cigarettes in the U.S.,  has made clove cigarettes more difficult for young people to obtain, but they can still be purchased online.

The flavored tobacco ban is meant to help deter kids from getting started with tobacco. Sweet flavors added to cigarettes soften the harsh taste of tobacco smoke, easing new smokers into what often becomes a lifelong struggle with nicotine addiction.

Health Risks 

Studies have shown that clove cigarettes deliver more nicotine, carbon monoxide and tar than regular cigarettes and that smokers face up to 20 times the risk of acute lung damage as that of nonsmokers.

Acute lung damage could include increased fluid in the lungs, decreased oxygen, inflammation and capillary leakage.  Kretek smokers who suffer from asthma or a respiratory infection are especially at risk.

Clove cigarette smokers also increase their risk of heart disease and certain cancers, such as cancer of the oral cavity, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, and liver.

Clove cigarette smokers face the same risk of nicotine addiction that conventional smokers do.

Clove Cigarette Use Among U.S. Teens

Because clove cigarettes are no longer sold in the U.S., data on their use among teens is not being gathered.  The most recent statistics reported from the National Youth Tobacco Survey in 2013 indicated that less than one percent ( 0.8 percent) of approximately 18,000 middle and high school students polled from 187 schools listed clove cigarettes as a tobacco product they currently use.  Current use is defined as one or more tobacco products used at least once in the past 30 days.

Eugenol in Clove Cigarettes

Naturally occurring in cloves, eugenol is a mild antiseptic and anesthetic. It is sometimes added to traditional cigarettes to numb the throat against the harshness of tobacco smoke. It is also used in dental products.

It is thought that the numbing feature of cloves caused by eugenol allows the kretek smoker to inhale longer and more deeply. This can increase the risk of lung infections, respiratory illness and allergic reactions in some smokers, especially those with existing lung sensitivities.

Health Risks Associated With Cloves

In large doses, cloves or clove oil can cause a variety of potentially dangerous problems:

  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Seizures
  • Accelerated breathing and heartbeat
  • Sleepiness
  • Burns in the mouth or throat
  • Intestinal bleeding
  • Liver or kidney failure.

In Summary

Clove cigarettes are not a safe smoking alternative. Any product that must be lit, burned and inhaled is hazardous to delicate lung tissue and other organs in our bodies. And one that contains tobacco is even more hazardous. 

There is no such thing as a safe cigarette.

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