The official blog of the Lung Institute.
History of Cigarette Composition
The look is instantly recognizable – a small white stick with a brown base filled with crushed brown leaves. Fifty years ago you would have seen your coworkers light one up as they continued to punch the keys of their typewriters, filing reports. Fast forward to today and a few coworkers are lighting up outside or sucking on electronic cigarettes before returning to work. The number of people who smoke and where they do it may have changed, but in many ways cigarette composition has stayed the same.
Cigarettes in the Late 19th and Early 20th Centuries
In 1880 James Buchanan Duke, the man responsible for the cigarette boom of the 20th century, entered what was then a niche market of selling ready-rolled cigarettes. Prior to that point, most people preferred to smoke tobacco in pipes, cigars or by hand-rolling their own cigarettes.
Two years later, Duke teamed up with mechanic James Bonsack, who would go on to build a machine that could automatically neatly roll and cut premade cigarettes. This machine, later called the Bonsack Machine, could produce 120,000 cigarettes a day versus the 200 cigarettes made by the factory girls of the time. To keep the cigarettes from drying out, glycerin, sugar, molasses and other chemicals were added.
This mass production led to increased availability and popularity of cigarettes over other forms of smoking during the 20th century.
Parts of a Cigarette
The parts that make up a cigarette have gone largely unchanged over the years. A cigarette is made up of various components, typically: a white paper tube that holds shredded tobacco leaves, tobacco-by products and other additives; the foot, the end of the cigarette that you put in your mouth; and the filter. The filter, however, wasn’t added until the middle of the 20th century.
By the early 1950s, scientific evidence started to mount linking cigarettes as a cause of major respiratory diseases, such as emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Cigarette companies started to combat this problem by focusing its efforts on selling filtered cigarettes designed to reduce tar and nicotine yields. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, before 1950, 0.6 percent of cigarettes were filtered. By 1960, 51 percent of cigarettes had filters. As of 2005, 99 percent of cigarettes had filters.
Contrary to popular belief at their inception, these filters did little to help curve the harmful effects of cigarette smoke. According to the American Lung Association, today there are approximately 600 ingredients in cigarette tobacco, causing more than 7,000 chemicals when burned. Some of the chemicals in cigarette smoke include ammonia (found in household cleaners), carbon monoxide (released in car exhaust fumes), and formaldehyde (aka embalming fluid).
The Rise of the E-Cigarette
As traditional cigarettes have seen a fall in popularity in the US since 1965, alternative forms of smoking have gained popularity. Since the early 2000s, electronic cigarettes, also called e-cigarettes or e-cigs, have become increasingly popular. E-cigs are battery-operated devices that deliver nicotine with flavoring in vapor form instead of smoke.
E-cigs consist of three components including a cartridge that holds the liquid solution that gets vaporized (or “vaped”), a vaporizer heating unit and a battery. The e-cig design varies by model with some having resembling a classic cigarette.
There is insufficient information available to determine whether e-cigs are safer than traditional cigarettes. Some studies suggest that while e-cig vapor is safer than smoke, some e-cig flavors might cause lung stress.
Smoking is the number one preventable cause of death in the world, and millions of people quit smoking annually. When you quit smoking, your lungs slowly recover. Sticking to a plan will yield greater benefits after you quit. If you or a loved one suffers from a smoking-related lung disease and want to learn more about treatment options, contact the Lung Institute online, or call (800) 729-3065.