The Health Risks of Vinyl Chloride in Cigarettes

burning cigarette with smoke

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Also known as chloroethylene, ethylene monochloride, or monochloroethylene, vinyl chloride is a flammable clear gas or liquid with a mildly sweet odor. Vinyl chloride is a man-made product. It does not occur naturally in the environment.

Uses of Vinyl Chloride

Until the mid-seventies, vinyl chloride was used in a variety of consumer products, including cosmetics, as a propellant in aerosol cans, and as a coolant.

Today, vinyl chloride is most commonly used to make a polymer called polyvinyl chloride (PVC). PVC is found in various plastic products, including wire insulation and packaging materials.

Vinyl chloride is also used in the manufacture of cigarette filters.

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

How It Gets Into the Human Body

Vinyl chloride most commonly enters the human body through inhalation:

  • Breathing air close to hazardous waste sites/landfill areas where plastics industries dump waste products.
  • Breathing the air in a contaminated workspace where plastics are produced or used.
  • Breathing cigarette or cigar smoke.

Less commonly, vinyl chloride can be ingested when a person drinks water from a contaminated well.

Vinyl Chloride in Cigarettes

Vinyl chloride can be found in both firsthand and secondhand smoke in low levels, typically 5 to 30 nanograms per cigarette (a nanogram is 0.000000001 gram).

Studies of long-term exposure to vinyl chloride in animals have shown that cancer of the liver and mammary gland may increase when very low levels of vinyl chloride are present in the air (50 ppm). While we do not know how much-inhaled cigarette smoke it takes to manifest the health hazards of vinyl chloride, we do know that it contributes to cancer and is unhealthy to breathe in any quantity.

Health Risks 

The health risks of exposure to vinyl chloride depend on a number of factors:

  • The amount the person was exposed to.
  • The frequency of exposure.
  • The length of each exposure.
  • The type of exposure; inhalation or ingestion.

Other factors that should be taken into account include whether there were other chemicals present at the time of exposure to vinyl chloride, as well as the age, sex, diet and overall health of the person who was exposed.

When vinyl chloride enters the bloodstream, it goes to the liver, where it's then converted into other substances.

Vinyl chloride itself typically leaves the body within a day via the urine, but the substances produced in the liver take longer to exit the body. Some of them are more hazardous to human health than vinyl chloride because they react with chemicals normally present in the body and change how they are used/responded to physiologically.

The Link Between Vinyl Chloride and Cancer

Vinyl chloride may increase the risk of developing a number of cancers, including:

  • Liver cancer
  • Brain cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Lymphoma
  • Leukemia

The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, The International Agency for Research on Cancer, and the U.S. Environmental Production Agency have all recognized vinyl chloride as a known human carcinogen.

More Chemicals in Cigarette Smoke

To date, research has uncovered more than 7,000 chemicals, including 250 poisonous, and 70 carcinogenic compounds in cigarette smoke, and will undoubtedly reveal more in the future.

If you still smoke, please begin the life-saving journey of smoking cessation. Don't delay. Get started on your quit program now. You won't regret it.

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Article Sources
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  • Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Centers for Disease Control. Vinyl Chloride.