There are some 4,800 chemicals in cigarette smoke, many of which are carcinogens — yet the majority of people who smoke don’t realize what they’re inhaling.
“The majority of the [United States] public wants easy access to information about chemicals in cigarettes and other tobacco products,” said Marcella Boynton, lead author of the study, in a press release. “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.”
In the study, the researchers analyzed data from a national telephone survey that included 5,014 U.S. adults over the age of 18. The survey focused primarily on low-income areas, which tend to include people living in poverty, sexual minorities, and people with lower levels of education, as these groups tend to see higher rates of tobacco use and its health effects. They found that 27.5 percent of adults had looked for info about tobacco smoke, particularly the chemicals that can cause cancer and other health ailments. Of the adults who had searched for the info, the largest percentage (37.2 percent) consisted of young adults between 18-25 years of age, and a good chunk of them (34.3 percent) were smokers. Among the people who weren’t smokers, some 26 percent reported having looked for information about cigarette smoke.
The researchers also found that most of the respondents didn’t know what cigarette smoke consists of, and half of the respondents noted they would like that information to be available on cigarette packs.
The FDA lists all of the dangerous and potentially harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke, at least the ones we currently know. They include acetaldehyde, ammonia, arsenic, coumarin, and various others, most of which are known to be toxic when inhaled or ingested. Research has investigated the specific known tobacco chemicals that can harm our health, but the information isn’t readily available for an average smoker to see when they pick up a pack of cigarettes. Frighteningly, since there are thousands of chemicals packed into a cigarette, it’s often hard to estimate the true extent of adverse health effects.
And while the FDA lists these chemicals on its website, the authors argue that making them more available — like listing them on cigarette packs — could curb smoking further. “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 better informed about the toxic chemicals present in tobacco products,” Boynton said in the press release.