Reducing chemical levels in cigarettes

Cutting nicotine in tobacco

Cigarette manufacturers have for years promoted lower-tar brands of cigarettes as tasting milder, carefully avoiding making any claims that they are safer, from a health point of view, than normal cigarettes. While the cost of new technologies to reduce the nicotine content in cigarettes is high, it is more the legal problems of admitting any health problems with tobacco that prevents the tobacco industry from promoting low-tar cigarettes.


Various substances are added to tobacco components to affect the flavor and palatability of smoke, alter smoke composition and yield, modify burn rate, and alter pH to optimize nicotine delivery. According to one industry expert, the major contribution of the tobacco flavor specialist is to help provide a rich, clean, full-bodied tobacco flavour, to keep to a minimum hotness and irritation in the mouth, and to ensure high satisfaction from an adequate level of nicotine per inhale.

Among the most dangerious substances in cigarette smoke are carcinogens called nitrosamines. There are six patented processes for reducing or eliminating these chemicals from cigarette smoke.

A major American tobacco company's 1991 handbook on leaf blending and product development shows that ammonia from such sources as diammonium phosphate (DAP), ammonium hydroxide, and urea can be used in cigarette manufacturing to increase the amount of nicotine delivered to the smoker. Ammonia, when added to a tobacco blend, reacts with the indigenous nicotine salts and liberates free nicotine. As a result, the ratio of extractable nicotine to bound nicotine in the smoke may be altered in favor of extractable nicotine.


There exists at present 58 patented methods for cutting the levels of toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke. Many of these methods have been known about for years, with most of the patents held by tobacco manufacturers. Methods include a catalytic method to remove carbon monoxide and nitric oxide from smoke (US 4182348) registered by British American Tobacco in 1980, and a process to cut hydrogen cyanide filed by Philip Morris (US 4301817) in 1981.

In June 1998, the health minister of British Columbia announced new regulations requiring tobacco companies to disclose all ingredients and additives. The Act became effective September 15, 1998. By October 31, 1998, the regulations require tobacco companies to report the amounts of 44 particular compounds inherent in tobacco smoke.

In 1999, the European Commission proposed that the maximum tar level would fall from 12 mg to 10 mg per cigarette by 31 December 2003 at the latest. EU countries would also introduce a ceiling of 1 mg of nicotine and a maximum of 10 mg of carbon monoxide per cigarette by the same date. The draft directive would also require cigarette manufacturers to notify smokers of the presence of ingredients other than tobacco, including additives.


(1) If cigarettes could be made 10 percent less dangerous, that would amount to saving 12,000 lives each year in the United Kingdom.

(2) The European Union should require tobacco companies to measure and disclose all the hazardous constituents of tobacco smoke and then reduce them. In almost every other consumer product, regulators require safety and quality standards--tobacco products should be no exception.

Counter Claim:

(1) Nicotine control was never a secret. Several brands of de-nicotined cigarettes were introduced as early as the 1920s. Claims of reduced tar and nicotine have been conspicuous since the 1950s, and the yields of each brand have been advertised since 1971.

(2) Tobacco manufacturers claim that reducing nicotine content in cigarettes might create alternative health risks from the substituted ingredients.

Type Classification:
E: Emanations of other strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-beingGOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal