PITOC factsheets

Additives are substances intentionally added to tobacco products by tobacco industry in order to render toxic tobacco products palatable and acceptable to consumers. On this webpage, you will find general information on tobacco additives and links to fact sheets on 14 selected additives.

The tobacco industry is made up of many companies that make and sell different types of tobacco products. Whether it is smoked, chewed, sniffed or inhaled second-hand, the use of these tobacco products can and does cause debilitating and life-threatening diseases, as well as premature death. The cigarette is the single most commonly used tobacco product in the European Union (EU).

Most people are aware that smoking cigarettes is harmful, as thousands of compounds are produced and released in the smoke, some of which (hundreds) are toxic. But what people may not be aware of is that most tobacco manufacturers add ingredients other than tobacco to cigarettes that affect the chemical make-up of the smoke. These ingredients are known as tobacco additives and are reportedly used, for example, to:

  • give a cigarette a particular flavour;
  • control the way the cigarette burns;
  • keep the tobacco moist thus preventing it from drying out.

To some people, the reasons for adding these substances to a consumer product may appear perfectly reasonable. They may argue that this is not necessarily a bad thing as it makes for a better consumer experience. However, helping people to better tolerate and enjoy a product like cigarettes, which is well known to be toxic and carcinogenic, is an entirely different issue and a matter of great concern.

Additives can make cigarettes more attractive by disguising some of the undesirable effects of inhaling burnt tobacco. For example, they:

  • mask the bitter taste and harsh smell of the smoke that is inhaled;
  • make the inhaled smoke milder, reducing the irritation of the airways (which essentially silences any warning that the smoke is dangerous);
  • turn the ash and smoke white;
  • improve the appearance of cigarettes.

Ultimately, by using additives, tobacco manufacturers encourage cigarette use in people who may otherwise be deterred from smoking due to the unfavourable characteristics of raw tobacco. The more pleasant the cigarette, the easier it is for a smoker to sustain their habit, and therefore the more likely it is that they could become addicted.

Studies have also shown that burning tobacco additives can result in the formation of harmful compounds. However, it is very difficult to consider the effects of a single additive in isolation due to the overall combined effect of all the chemicals present in the tobacco smoke. Moreover, the burnt derivatives of some additives are also known to indirectly boost the effects of nicotine on the brain (nicotine being the main reason why people become addicted to smoking).

Despite this, the tobacco industry is allowed to use additives and continues to do so, on the basis that they have been considered safe for use in food or cosmetics by relevant regulatory authorities. However, this is not a sufficiently scientific basis upon which to justify their use in tobacco products. This is because people do not generally consume/use these food and cosmetic products in a state where the additives are burnt (from being exposed to very high temperatures) and then inhaled. In food and cosmetic goods, consumers are exposed to these additives in a completely different way to how they would be exposed to them through smoking tobacco products. Therefore, these additives should not be considered to have comparable effects on the body when consumed in this way. Furthermore, the fact that these additives can make tobacco products more attractive and increase their use is particularly concerning given the toxic and addictive nature of tobacco products.

Tobacco manufacturers also market ‘natural' or ‘clean' cigarettes that reportedly have no chemicals or additives. However, potential consumers of these cigarettes are reminded that there is no such thing as a safe cigarette, because the smoke that is produced still contains carcinogens and other toxic compounds that come from the tobacco itself.

Take home message: Tobacco manufacturers make cigarettes more attractive, which encourages their use, and makes it easier for anyone smoking to become addicted.

The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), Bilthoven, the Netherlands, and the German Cancer Research Center, (DKFZ), Heidelberg, created fact sheets on tobacco additives. The fact sheets aim to inform professionals and the public on the general uses, tobacco industry uses and harmful health effects of selected tobacco additives.

For professionals:

For the public:

The fact sheets have been created in the framework of the EU project Public Information Tobacco Control (PITOC). The fact sheets for the public have been translated by all 16 partners of the project to their national languages and will be disseminated via their websites. This initiative has received funding from The European Union in the framework of the Health Programme.

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