PBS Kids GO! It's My Life
Smoking: What's In A Cigarette?

It's just one cigarette...but wow! That little thing has over 4,000 chemicals in it! You already know that cigarettes contain Nicotine, but did you know that Nicotine is also used in bug spray? Before you decide to light up, you might want to know just what it is that you're inhaling. Below are just a few of the other chemicals found in cigarettes:

  • Tar. This ingredient, which gives cigarettes flavor, is the same thick black substance used to pave roads and driveways.
  • Formaldehyde. This is the same stuff used to preserve dead animals, like the frogs dissected in some biology classes.
  • Cyanide, which is also a main ingredient in rat poison.
  • Lead. It's also found in some kinds of paint.
  • Acetone, which is a common ingredient in paint and nail polish remover.
  • Ammonia. Besides the fact that it's in many household cleaners, it's also in cigarettes.
  • Carbon monoxide, a common pollutant and the same stuff that escapes from the exhaust in cars.
  • Hydrazine, a chemical used in jets and rocket fuel.

To give you an idea of the harm these substances can do, picture the thick gooey-ness of tar. The average smoker inhales about one cup of tar a year. Because a smoker's lungs often don't work as well as they should, the tar may stick and stay in there for a long time. Tar also hurts the "cilia" in a person's airway, which are tiny hairs that protect the lungs by sweeping out mucus and germs. Tar, like many of the other chemicals in cigarettes, can cause diseases related to how we breathe, like emphysema and bronchitis.

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