Addiction Nicotine Use The Inside of Cigarettes What Is a Cigarette? By Terry Martin Terry Martin Facebook Twitter Terry Martin quit smoking after 26 years and is now an advocate for those seeking freedom from nicotine addiction. Learn about our editorial process Updated on September 30, 2021 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Armeen Poor, MD Medically reviewed by Armeen Poor, MD Armeen Poor, MD, is a board-certified pulmonologist and intensivist. He specializes in pulmonary health, critical care, and sleep medicine. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Peter Dazeley / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Definition Ingredients History Types Impact What Is a Cigarette? A cigarette is a cylindrical roll of shredded or ground tobacco that is wrapped in paper or another substance that does not contain tobacco. To smoke a cigarette, the end is lit and the smoke is inhaled. Many manufactured cigarettes also have filters on one end that are intended to trap some of the toxic chemicals contained in cigarette smoke. Smoking cigarettes can lead to nicotine addiction and has been linked to serious health risks including cancer, heart disease, stroke, and death. Even for those who don't smoke cigarettes, just being exposed to secondhand smoke can have serious health consequences. What's in Cigarettes Depending on the type of cigarette, the ingredients will vary somewhat. Commercially produced cigarettes manufactured by one of the Big Tobacco companies can and do contain hundreds of additives on top of the tobacco that's in the cigarettes. Ingredients Some additives are used as flavoring agents, but others, such as ammonia, are added to boost the effect that nicotine has on the body. Additives are also used to do things like keep the tobacco moist and extend shelf life. In April 1994, five of the Big Tobacco companies in the United States provided the Department of Health and Human Services with a list of 599 potential additives used in manufacturing their cigarettes. They were required to do this because of a federal court ruling. In June 2009, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act was passed, placing requirements on tobacco companies to report all ingredients used in cigarettes and other tobacco products. New products must be submitted for approval before going to market. Hand-rolled or roll-your-own cigarettes use loose tobacco. They don't contain all of the same additives that traditional manufactured cigarettes do, but they are still hazardous to health. The Sneaky Role of Some Additives in Cigarettes Cigarette Smoke Cigarette smoke is a complex mix of more than 7,000 chemicals. These chemicals can be formed or produced: By the additives in the product itself From pesticides that are used in the tobacco farming process When those additives are heated and/or burned When burning chemicals combine, producing yet more unique chemicals To date, 250 poisonous chemicals have been identified in cigarette smoke as well as at least 69 carcinogens. History of Cigarettes The Maya may have been the first people to smoke tobacco in the Americas. Images of tobacco use have been found carved into stone that date to 600 to 900 CE. North American Indians have long smoked pipes filled with tobacco as part of religious ceremonies and medical purposes. Smoking was not a daily activity; rather, it was ritually filled with special meaning. Early 1900s Cigarette smoking became a popular activity with men in the early 1900s, but it wasn't until World War I and World War II that it really took off. Cigarette companies gave soldiers free cigarettes and marketed them to women back home as well. By 1950, the per person consumption of cigarettes was 2,000 per year. Later 1900s Later in the 1950s, however, concerns over the health effects of smoking were surfacing. In 1964, the U.S. Surgeon General published a report about the dangers of smoking. Not long after, Congress passed the Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act, which said that every cigarette pack must have a warning label on its side stating, "Cigarettes may be hazardous to your health." 2000s Today, cigarette smoking is on the wane in many parts of the world, but plenty of people still smoke with few, if any, legislative restrictions on them. It's likely that cigarette consumption will continue to decrease as more and more people understand the tremendous health hazards they pose. 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. TSNAs in Cigarettes and Cigarette Smoke: What Are They? Types of Cigarettes Manufactured cigarettes can come in different sizes, differing in length and circumference. Cigarettes may also be labeled as light, organic, all-natural, or non-additive. These labels may give the misperception that they are safer than other types of cigarettes. The terms "light," "low," and "mild" can no longer be used to market cigarettes in the United States without exception from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Menthol is a flavor that comes from mint and helps make cigarettes less harsh. It's the only flavor of cigarettes now allowed in the United States; all others have been banned as of 2009. However, in April 2021, the FDA revealed that it plans to ban menthol as a characterizing flavor in cigarettes. There are other types of cigarettes, in addition to traditional manufactured cigarettes as well. While these are different, according to the American Cancer Society, there is no safe form of tobacco. Roll-your-own: Hand-rolled cigarettes are made using loose tobacco and rolling paper. Because they are hand-rolled, they may not have a filter. Clove: Clove cigarettes, also called kreteks, are from Indonesia. They are made from tobacco and cloves and are rolled in paper. As of 2009, clove cigarettes have been banned in the United States. Bidis: Bidis are a type of cigarette from India and other southeast Asian countries that's made with loose tobacco rolled in a tendu or temburni leaf, which are native to Asia. What Are E-Cigarettes? Electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, are made with a liquid typically containing nicotine, chemicals, and other flavors that is heated eletronically to create an aerosol that is then inhaled. Unlike traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes don't contain tobacco, but they are still considered a tobacco product according to the FDA because they contain nicotine. Impact of Cigarettes While cigarette use is declining, it still impacts the health of many people around the world. As of 2019, approximately 34 million adults in the United States, or 14% of the adult population, smoked cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking is the leading cause of premature death in the United States, according to a 2014 Surgeon General report from the Department of Health and Human Services. It's also estimated to cost more than $300 billion dollars annually in the United States, when considering healthcare-related costs and lost productivity. 25 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. National Cancer Institute. Cigarette. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health effects of cigarette smoking. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Secondhand smoke (SHS) facts. Food and Drug Administration. How a cigarette is engineered. U.S. Government Publishing Office. Family smoking prevention and tobacco control and federal retirement reform. National Cancer Institute. Harms of cigarette smoking and health benefits of quitting. Zagorevski DV, Loughmiller-Newman JA. The detection of nicotine in a Late Mayan period flask by gas chromatography and liquid chromatography mass spectrometry methods. Rapid Commun Mass Spectrom. 2012;26(4):403-411. doi:10.1002/rcm.5339 Tushingham S, Snyder CM, Brownstein KJ, Damitio WJ, Gang DR. Biomolecular archaeology reveals ancient origins of indigenous tobacco smoking in North American Plateau. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2018;115(46):11742-11747. doi:10.1073/pnas.1813796115 Jung KJ, Jeon C, Jee SH. The effect of smoking on lung cancer: ethnic differences and the smoking paradox. Epidemiol Health. 2016;38:e2016060. doi:10.4178/epih.e2016060 Cheng KW, Kenkel DS. U.S. Cigarette Demand: 1944-2004. B E J Econom Anal Policy. 2010;10(1):10.2202/1935-1682.2438. doi:10.2202/1935-1682.2438 Proctor RN. The history of the discovery of the cigarette–lung cancer link: Evidentiary traditions, corporate denial, global toll. Tobacco Control. 2012;21:87-91. doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2011-050338 Hiilamo H, Crosbie E, Glantz SA. The evolution of health warning labels on cigarette packs: The role of precedents, and tobacco industry strategies to block diffusion. Tob Control. 2014;23(1):e2. doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2012-050541 Talhout R, Richter PA, Stepanov I, Watson CV, Watson CH. Cigarette design features: Effects on emission levels, user perception, and behavior. Tob Regul Sci. 2018;4(1):592-604. doi:10.18001/TRS.4.1.6 Baig SA, Byron MJ, Lazard AJ, Brewer NT. “Organic,” “natural,” and “additive-free” cigarettes: Comparing the effects of advertising claims and disclaimers on perceptions of harm. Nicotine Tob Res. 2018;21(7):933-939. doi:10.1093/ntr/nty036 Food and Drug Administration. Light, low, mild, or similar descriptors. American Lung Association. What is menthol?. Food and Drug Administration. Menthol and other flavors in tobacco products. American Cancer Society. Is any type of tobacco product safe?. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bidis and kreteks. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Vaping Devices (Electronic Cigarettes) DrugFacts. American Cancer Society. What Do We Know About E-Cigarettes?. World Health Organization. WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic 2021: Addressing new and emerging products. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Current cigarette smoking among adults in the United States. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The health consequences of smoking—50 years of progress. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Economic trends in tobacco. By Terry Martin Terry Martin quit smoking after 26 years and is now an advocate for those seeking freedom from nicotine addiction. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Get Treatment for Addiction Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.