Facts About Clove Cigarettes

Once-popular smoking alternative poses serious risks

Clove cigarettes, also known as kreteks, are often mistakenly thought of as a safe smoking alternative to regular cigarettes. They are resumed to be more natural and lacking in toxic chemicals. But they are just as problematic as traditional cigarettes.

Produced in Indonesia and distributed worldwide, clove cigarettes are typically made up of approximately 60% to 80% tobacco and 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.

Clove Cigarette health risks
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin 

Health Risks

Studies have shown that clove cigarettes deliver more nicotine, carbon monoxide, and tar than regular cigarettes. It takes more time and puffs, on average, to fully smoke a clove cigarette, leading smokers to face up to 20 times the risk of acute lung damage than nonsmokers. Clove cigarette smokers who suffer from asthma or a respiratory infection are especially at risk.

Clove cigarettes pose the same risk of nicotine addiction that conventional cigarettes do, according to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Clove cigarettes also contain eugenol, a mild anesthetic that naturally occurs in cloves. This numbing feature allows a kretek smoker to inhale longer and more deeply. (Because of this effect, eugenol is sometimes added to traditional cigarettes to numb the throat against the harshness of tobacco smoke.)

These longer and deeper inhales can increase the risk of lung infections, respiratory illness, and allergic reactions in some smokers. It's especially risky for those with existing lung sensitivities.

Smoking cloves also increases the risk of heart disease and certain cancers, such as cancer of the oral cavity, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, and liver. Aside from this, in large doses, cloves or clove oil can cause a variety of potentially dangerous problems, including:

  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Seizures
  • Rapid breathing
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Sleepiness
  • Mouth or throat burns
  • Lung injury
  • Bronchospasm

The CDC has confirmed 12 cases of non-specific respiratory illness (including pulmonary edema, capillary leakage, and decreased blood oxygen) linked to the use of clove cigarettes.

Gateway to Tobacco Use

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.

Clove cigarettes became popular in the United States among young people in the early 1980s, particularly in California high schools and universities. The trend peaked in 1984 when imports into the United States, mainly from Indonesia, totaled 150 million cigarettes per year.

As of Dec. 20, 2019, the legal age limit is 21 years old for purchasing cigarettes, cigars, or any other tobacco products in the U.S.

The trend began to reverse in 1985 as evidence suggested that clove cigarettes were more harmful than originally imagined. In 2009, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took action by prohibiting cigarettes with any flavor other than tobacco or menthol, which included cigarettes made with clove or clove oil.

The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009 was implemented to deter kids from trying 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.

In 2020, the FDA specifically cracked down on companies that make and sell fruit and mint-flavored e-cigarettes, which were more appealing to young adults than traditional tobacco or mint varieties. While the FDA also raised the age for buying tobacco products to 21, parents should know that e-cigarette and other tobacco products may still be available online.

A Word From Verywell

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, and one that contains tobacco is even more hazardous. There is no such thing as a safe cigarette. If you are already smoking clove cigarettes—or any other type of cigarette—there are steps you can take to quit the habit and live a healthier life.

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Article Sources
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