What is the con?
When lit, raw dried tobacco releases over 200 poisonous chemicals.1-9 Inhaling this toxic smoke would be extremely harsh and painful. Tobacco companies manipulate tobacco products in ways that make the smoke feel less harsh and harmful than it really is. When you don’t feel the true harshness of the smoke, you get fewer instant reminders that the smoke is damaging your airways. It allows you to keep taking in lungfuls of toxic, cancer-causing chemicals.10 This is the con that kills.
How do you know tobacco companies do this?
Information on how tobacco companies modify tobacco products is available through documents made public by the tobacco industry after legal orders in the United States required them to do so. There has also been independent research by scientists, summarised in authoritative government reports.11-15
More information on how tobacco is grown, processed and modified and what happens when it is burned is available here.
How are tobacco companies getting away with this?
The World Health Organization recommends governments introduce laws to control what is used in tobacco products. In the Draft National Tobacco Strategy 2022 – 2030, the Australian Government has said they will explore options for controlling how cigarette filters are designed and which additives can be used when making tobacco products.
What can be done about this con?
Quit is working with the Cancer Council to encourage the Australian Government to introduce laws that would restrict how tobacco companies can manipulate the filters of tailor-made cigarettes, and that would ban some additives.
Is there a way to process tobacco that makes it safer to use?
No. Although there are many types of tobacco products available with a range of different tobaccos and chemical additives, there are none that are known to be less harmful. All tobacco smoke contains dangerous levels of toxic and cancer-causing chemicals.
This is because some of the toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke come from the growing tobacco plant. Others form during the curing process, and others are added after this. Even more chemicals are formed once tobacco is burned.
There are, however, ways to make tobacco less addictive and less bearable to smoke. If these changes were required for tobacco products sold in Australia, it could discourage people from taking up smoking. It could also make it easier for people who smoke to quit so they would be less likely to end up with a tobacco-caused disease.
Why is Quit running this campaign?
Quit believes that people have the right to know how tobacco products are manipulated, and how these manipulations might make it easier for:
- young people to start smoking and to become addicted
- current smokers to continue using these dangerous products.
If you would like advice or assistance to stop smoking or vaping, visit quit.org.au or call Quitline on 13 78 48.
How can I escape the con?
It doesn’t matter what it tastes like or how it feels, all tobacco smoke contains over 200 toxic poisons. E-cigarettes also contain hazardous substances that harm the lungs and heart.
The best way to escape the con is to quit smoking and vaping. Read more about how to escape the con.
What support can I get to stop smoking?
Research shows you are more likely to stop smoking and stay quit when you:
- speak with a GP. A GP can discuss options and provide a script for subsidised stop smoking medication. See What to ask your GP.
- talk to Quitline (13 7848). Quitline counsellors are qualified experts in helping people to stop smoking. Quitline counsellors help build and sustain a person’s motivation to quit and help them build a stop smoking plan that suits them. Read more about how Quitline can help.
- use stop smoking medication, like the nicotine patch and gum or prescribed stop smoking tablets, to help manage symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.
What about organic tobacco?
Organic tobacco does not mean a safer cigarette. All tobacco smoke contains dangerous levels of toxic and cancer-causing chemicals. Carcinogens, carbon monoxide, tar, toxic metals and other particulate matter are present in the smoke from conventional cigarettes and in the smoke from ‘organic’, ‘natural’ and ‘additive-free’ cigarettes.16,17
What about herbal cigarettes?
Herbal cigarettes are not safer than tobacco cigarettes. The smoke released from herbal cigarettes contains harmful substances that are also found in tobacco cigarettes. People who smoke herbal cigarettes expose themselves to dangerous levels of tar.18
What about heated tobacco products?
All forms of tobacco are harmful. The aerosol from heated cigarettes, also known as heat-not-burn, contains many of the same poisonous cancer-causing chemicals as cigarette smoke. Some heated tobacco products contain additional harmful chemicals that are unique to those products. These products also contain nicotine at levels like tailor-made cigarettes.19
What about shisha (waterpipe, nargile, hookah)?
People may mistake the sweet smell of shisha as being less harmful compared to cigarettes, however it has very similar health risks to smoking cigarettes and in some cases, it may be worse.20
Many toxic chemicals have been found in shisha smoke. When people smoke shisha, they can end up inhaling a lot of smoke. This is because shisha is usually inhaled more deeply and is smoked for a more extended period.20
Not only does smoking a shisha immediately increase heart rate, blood pressure and levels of carbon monoxide in your blood, there is the risk of many of the long-term health risks that are also caused by smoking cigarettes.20
What about e-cigarettes?
While e-cigarettes don’t contain tobacco, they do contain hundreds of chemicals: some are known to be harmful to inhale and many haven’t been tested at all. People who use e-cigarettes also inhale tiny particles that lodge deep in the lungs. Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, even if they don’t state it on the label. Nicotine is highly addictive. Read more about e-cigarettes here.
Is raw tobacco dangerous for the people farming and processing it?
Yes, it can be. A common illness among tobacco farm workers is ‘green tobacco sickness’. This sickness occurs when workers have direct contact with newly cut green tobacco leaves, which results in nicotine being absorbed by the skin and entering the blood stream. Workers may also get inflammation in the lungs which is caused by particles released into the air during processing of the tobacco leaves.21
Is tobacco bad for the environment?
Yes, tobacco has a significant impact on the environment. From tobacco cultivation to curing, to manufacturing, distribution, consumption and litter, the global impact of smoking is extensive.22
Tobacco growing is a cause of deforestation due to land clearing. In addition, tobacco farming has led to nutrient depletion from soil and the curing process has required large volumes of timber to be burnt.22 Most cigarette butts are made of plastic. They are a common form of litter and one of the most common types of plastic found in oceans. Learn more here.
1. National Toxicology Program. Report on carcinogens, 9th edition. 1999. US Department of Health and Human Services.
2. National Toxicology Program. Report on carcinogens, 15th edition. 2021. US Department of Health and Human Services.
3. National Toxicology Program. NTP Report on carcinogens background document for environmental tobacco smoke. 1998. US Department of Health and Human Services.
4. National Toxicology Program. NTP Report on carcinogens background document for tobacco smoking, Final March 1999. 1999. US Department of Health and Human Services.
5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The health consequences of involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke: a report of the Surgeon General. 2006. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coordinating Center for Health Promotion, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health.
6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Biomonitoring Program. Tobacco., https://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/tobacco.html (2022, accessed 19 Sep 2022).
7. World Health Organization. The tobacco body, https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/WHO-NMH-PND-19.1 (2022, accessed 19 Sep 2022).
8. NIH National Cancer Institute. Harms of cigarette smoking and health benefits of quitting, https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/tobacco/cessation-fact-sheet#r1 (2022, accessed 19 Sep 2022).
9. Australian Government Department of Health. What is smoking and tobacco?, https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/smoking-and-tobacco/about-smoking-and-tobacco/what-is-smoking-and-tobacco (2022, accessed 19 Sep 2022).
10. Winnall WR. 12.6 Additives and flavourings in tobacco products, https://www.tobaccoinaustralia.org.au/chapter-12-tobacco-products/12-6-additives-and-flavourings-in-tobacco-products (2022, accessed 19 Sep 2022).
11. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. How tobacco smoke causes disease: the biology and behavioral basis for smoking-attributable disease. A report of the Surgeon General. 2010. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health.
12. Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR). Final opinion on additives used in tobacco products, http://ec.europa.eu/health/scientific_committees/emerging/docs/scenihr_o_051.pdf (2016, accessed 19 Sep 2022).
13. WHO Study Group on Tobacco Product Regulation (TobReg). Advisory note: Banning menthol in tobacco products, http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/205928/1/9789241510332_eng.pdf (2016, accessed 19 Sep 2022).
14. WHO Study Group on Tobacco Product Regulation (TobReg). Report on the scientific basis of tobacco product regulation: seventh report of a WHO Study Group, https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/329445/9789241210249-eng.pdf (2019, accessed 19 Sep 2022).
15. Song MA, Benowitz NL, Berman M, et al. Cigarette filter ventilation and its relationship to increasing rates of lung adenocarcinoma. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2017; 109. DOI: 10.1093/jnci/djx075.
16. Truth Initiative. Are organic or natural cigarettes safer to smoke?, https://truthinitiative.org/research-resources/traditional-tobacco-products/are-organic-or-natural-cigarettes-safer-smoke (2017, accessed 19 Sep 2022).
17. Jain V, Alcheva A, Huang D, et al. Comprehensive chemical characterization of Natural American Spirit cigarettes. Tob Regul Sci 2019; 5: 381-399.
18. Bellew B, Greenhalgh E, Hanley-Jones S, et al. 3.32 Health effects of smoking other substances, https://www.tobaccoinaustralia.org.au/chapter-3-health-effects/3-32-health-effects-of-smoking-other-substances (2022, accessed 19 Sep 2022).
19. Greenhalgh E. 18C.3 Health risks of heated tobacco products, https://www.tobaccoinaustralia.org.au/chapter-18-harm-reduction/indepth-18c-non-combustible-cigarettes/18c-3-health-risks (2022, accessed 19 Sep 2022).
20. Bellew B, Winnall W, Hanley-Jones S, et al. 3.27 Health effects of smoking tobacco in other forms, https://www.tobaccoinaustralia.org.au/chapter-3-health-effects/3-27-health-effects-of-smoking-tobacco-in-other-fo (2022, accessed 19 Sep 2022).
21. Greenhalgh E, Freeman B and Winstanley M. 10.14 Ethical issues related to farming and production, https://www.tobaccoinaustralia.org.au/chapter-10-tobacco-industry/10-14-ethical-issues-related-to-farming-and-production (2022, accessed 19 Sep 2022).
22. MacKenzie R, Freeman B and Winstanley M. 10.15 The environmental impact of tobacco production, https://www.tobaccoinaustralia.org.au/chapter-10-tobacco-industry/10-15-the-environmental-impact-of-tobacco-producti (2022, accessed 19 Sep 2022).