What Are Clove Cigarettes?

Clove Cigarette health risks

Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Many people mistakenly believe clove cigarettes, also known as kreteks, are a safe, more natural, and less toxic alternative to regular cigarettes. However, they are just as problematic as traditional cigarettes and pose a number of health risks.

What Are Clove Cigarettes?

Produced in Indonesia and distributed worldwide, clove cigarettes are made from cloves—the dried, unopened flower buds from the clove tree (Syzygium aromaticum), which is native to Indonesia's Maluku Islands. Cloves are most widely used as a cooking spice, and they lend their characteristic flavor and scent to clove cigarettes. The cigarettes are usually machine-rolled and come with and without filters.

Ingredients in Clove Cigarettes

Clove cigarettes typically contain 60% to 80% tobacco and 20% to 40% ground clove buds and clove oil. Sometimes, other spices such as cumin, cinnamon, and nutmeg are also added. More problematic ingredients lurk inside, too.

Nicotine, Carbon Monoxide, and Tar Exposure

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), clove cigarettes contain more nicotine, carbon monoxide, and tar than regular cigarettes sold in the United States.

Fully smoking a clove cigarette takes more time and puffs on average, and people who smoke cloves face up to 20 times the risk of acute lung damage than people who don't smoke. People who have asthma or a respiratory infection are especially at risk of the lung health risks associated with smoking clove cigarettes.

Exposure to Eugenol

Clove cigarettes also contain eugenol, a mild anesthetic that naturally occurs in cloves. This numbing effect allows the person to inhale longer and more deeply than with traditional cigarettes. In fact, eugenol is also added to some traditional cigarettes to numb the throat against the harshness of tobacco smoke.

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

Health Effects of Clove Cigarettes

According to the American Cancer Society, clove cigarettes carry the same health risks as traditional cigarettes, including an increased risk of cancer and heart disease. Kreteks specifically have also been associated with an increased risk for acute lung injury, including inflammation, fluid in the lungs, and low oxygen levels. Like traditional cigarettes, clove cigarettes can also cause lung cancer and nicotine addiction.

Smoking clove cigarettes can cause a variety of other potentially dangerous problems, including:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Angina
  • Blood-streaked sputum
  • Bronchospasm
  • Chronic cough (possibly bloody)
  • Diarrhea
  • Labored breathing
  • Lung injury
  • Mouth and throat burns
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Nosebleeds
  • Pulmonary edema
  • Rapid breathing
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Respiratory tract infections
  • Seizures
  • Sleepiness
  • Worsening of chronic bronchitis and asthma

Gateway to Tobacco Use

As with bidi cigarettes, clove cigarettes are often a young person's first introduction to tobacco. With its flavor and packaging, this type of cigarette appeals to young smokers and is considered a gateway product. 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.

Because the sale of flavored cigarettes has been banned since 2009 in the United States, current data from the CDC on the prevalence of clove cigarette use among youth is lacking.

Clove cigarettes became popular in the United States among young people in the early 1980s. The trend peaked in 1984 when imports, mainly from Indonesia, totaled 150 million cigarettes per year. The trend began to reverse in 1985 as evidence suggested that clove cigarettes were more harmful than originally believed.

From 1984 to 1985, the CDC confirmed 12 cases of severe illness that may have been associated with clove cigarettes. Symptoms included pulmonary edema, coughing up blood, and bronchospasm.

Legal Status in the U.S.

In 2009, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prohibited cigarettes with any flavor other than tobacco or menthol, which included cigarettes made with cloves or clove oil. Likewise, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009 was implemented to deter kids from trying tobacco.

In 2020, the FDA turned its focus to fruit- and mint-flavored e-cigarettes, more formally known as electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), because they're more appealing to young adults than traditional tobacco and mint varieties. Companies that sell these products, including those flavored with clove, are subject to regulatory action.

The rule applies to any flavored, cartridge-based ENDS product (other than a tobacco- or menthol-flavored ENDS product). The FDA specified that it also includes all other ENDS products "for which the manufacturer has failed to take (or is failing to take) adequate measures to prevent minors’ access" and "any ENDS product that is targeted to minors or likely to promote the use of ENDS by minors."

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.

A Word From Verywell

Clove cigarettes are not a safe smoking alternative. Any product that is lit, burned, and inhaled is hazardous to delicate lung tissue and other organs. 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—take steps to quit the habit and live a healthier life.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why are clove cigarettes illegal?

    In 2009, Congress enacted the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. Based on the rationale that flavored cigarettes appealed to kids, the act prohibited the production and sale of most flavored cigarettes. Clove cigarettes fell under the ruling.

  • What are clove cigarettes made of?

    The typical clove cigarette (also known as a kretek) is mostly tobacco (60% to 80%). Ground clove buds and oil make up the other 20% to 40%. Spices such as cumin, cinnamon, and nutmeg add flavor.

  • What do clove cigarettes smell like?

    The aroma of a clove cigarette is distinctively sweet and spicy, with hints of vanilla. You've likely encountered a similar smell if you've ever baked or cooked with cloves.

  • Can you still buy clove cigarettes?

    Clove cigarettes (also known as kreteks) have been banned in the United States since 2009. However, they remain available in many other countries worldwide.

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13 Sources
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