What are You Really Smoking?

By Wes Washington (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

There is very little awareness of the chemical components of cigarette smoke among adults in the United States, even though many of them have reported seeking out relevant information. In a study published in the open access journal BMC Public Health, a team of researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill suggested the Food and Drug Administration expand messaging activities so that information about constituents reaches all segments of the American population.

The Study

Marcella Boynton, first author of the paper said, “The majority of the U.S. public wants easy access to information about chemicals in cigarettes and other tobacco products. Surprisingly, our results reveal that groups one might presume to be the least psychologically motivated to look for this information, young adults and smokers, were more likely to say that they had previously looked for this information.”

More than one-quarter of adults (27.5%) reported having sought out information on the different components of tobacco products and tobacco smoke, many of which were known to be poisonous or cancer-causing. Out of these adults, 37.2 percent were young adults (18-25 years of age) and 34.3 percent were smokers. Out of non-smokers and older adults, 26 percent reported having looked for information on tobacco constituents. However, with the exception of nicotine, most respondents were largely unaware of which chemicals were present in cigarette smoke.

Over half of respondents (54.8%), indicated they would like relevant information to be available on packages of cigarettes and 28.7 percent would prefer to find that information online.

The results indicated publication of tobacco ingredients is of interest to the public and might improve public health in the United States where tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death and disease, the researchers suggest.

Marcella Boynton said, “By making tobacco chemical information available to the public and tobacco industry practice more transparent, those seeking this information may be less likely to start smoking and more likely to quit because they will be informed about the toxic chemicals present in tobacco products.”


The Food and Drug Administration was given authority to regulate the tobacco industry with the passing of 2009s Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. It expanded this authority to include additional tobacco products, such as hookahs, electronic cigarettes and cigars in May, 2016.

The study was limited by its focus on tobacco constituents for which the Food and Drug Administration has signaled that it will require manufacturers to provide information. Given the large amount of chemicals in tobacco, future research into a wider range of constituents is needed to inform efforts to regulate tobacco use and communicate its risks, according to the researchers.

Making the ingredients in tobacco products available could benefit a majority of US smokers who reported the intention to quit in this study. Additional work is also needed to monitor the public’s response to FDA communications and changing patterns in tobacco use.


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