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The Contents of a Cigarette

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"The Contents of a Cigarette"
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Nowadays, cigarette packages are covered with so many warnings that one can barely see the brand name. Is there any hope that these prclamations of doom will deter smokers?  Virtually all of them are addicted to nicotine. Some are feeling rebellious and like the idea of risk-taking.  Some are too young to read the warnings, let alone understand them.

In Canada, a person can drink alcohol, watch restricted movies, vote, and go to war at 18, but must be 19 to purchase cigarettes. That increases the excitement of the chase. There are substantial penalties for selling or giving cigarettes to minors, but there is no law that prohibits a 10-year-old from walking down the street with a lit cigarette hanging out of his mouth.

What's in a cigarette?  Here's the all-star line-up:

Nicotine is a neurotoxin, which makes it a powerful insecticide. Virginia tobacco contains up to 3% nicotine; burley tobacco contains up to 5%. Modern cigarettes contain about half as much nicotine as the ones cowboys smoked in the Fifties, but they are still deadly.

Inhaled nicotine reaches the brain in seven seconds, stimulating brain cells. It accelerates the heart rate and contracts the arteries. Nicotine is highly addictive. The cravings of withdrawal are accompanied by anxiety, irritability, hunger, restlessness and loss of concentration. Many smokers prize the weight-loss effect caused by the increase in consumption of lipids, and the temporary hyperglycemia which suppresses appetite.  People who quit smoking find themselves battling weight gain.

Carbon monoxide is a deadly gas which attaches itself to our haemoglobin, displacing the oxygen that is vital to our survival. Inhaling cigarette smoke delivers 3.2% carbon monoxide directly to the lungs.  Carbon monoxide takes up to twenty-four hours to leave the system.  That represents a lot of displaced oxygen!

After the various irritants in cigarette smoke have paralyzed the filtering cilia in the bronchial tubes, tars are deposited on the walls of the respiratory tract and lungs. Pack-a-day smokers deposit about a cupful of this carcinogenic gunk in their bodies every year. It contains such delightful chemicals as formaldehyde, arsenic, cyanide, benzopyrene, benzene, toluene and acrolein. Filters and porous paper may reduce the toxins somewhat, but there are still plenty left to poison the body.

Various flavorings and additives are added to the tobacco to increase its addictiveness. When a smoker inhales, the heat of the burning cigarette breaks down the tobacco to produce a variety of poisonous gases. The smoke is just a minor part of the cigarette's output. The rest is a cocktail of over 4,000 noxious substances, including ammonia, acetone, methanol, vinyl chloride, heavy metals, and radioactive polonium 210.

Exposure to second-hand smoke is almost as dangerous as smoking.  Children are particularly vulnerable.  It is important to isolate them as much as possible from people who are smoking.

Unborn children are also affected by cigarette smoking, lowering their birth weight.

Cigarette butts are poison, and should always be disposed of safely in a covered container.  If ingested, a single butt contains enough nicotine to kill an animal or a small child.

Breaking a cigarette addiction is difficult, but the long-term rewards are very attractive.  Non-smokers enjoy better health, more disposable cash, fewer frostbites in the wintertime, and the knowledge that their environmental footprint is just a little lighter if they are not polluting the atmosphere.

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More about this author: Christine G.

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