Pack of cigarettes

A study published in the BMJ journal Tobacco Control found that misperceptions about the dangers of cigarette smoking are common among U.S. adults and teens. Most study participants mistakenly believed that the harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke come primarily from the additives introduced by cigarette manufacturers rather than from the tobacco, says an article about the study in MedPage Today. 

While additives aren’t the most harmful aspects of smoking, EVMS researcher Andrew Plunk, PhD, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, cautions that their presence increases the danger. 

“In a certain sense,” Dr. Plunk says, “the additives do make cigarettes more harmful by increasing the risk of addiction. The added chemicals are there for two main reasons. First, they make the nicotine easier to absorb. Second, they create cigarette smoke that is easier to tolerate. Both of these increase the addiction potential of cigarettes.”   

Cigarettes without additives, labeled “natural” or “additive-free,” are incorrectly perceived by study participants to be safer alternatives to traditional cigarettes. But in 2015, the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning to manufacturers of three cigarette brands contending that the use of those terms implied an untrue claim of reduced harm. 

So although the chemicals found naturally in tobacco are more dangerous than those in additives, Dr. Plunk says that becoming addicted to cigarettes is the ultimate danger.

“Modern cigarettes were designed to be as addictive as possible,” he says. “This was achieved both through the use of additives and design changes like adding a filter, which doesn’t necessarily make cigarettes safer, but does seem to make them easier to smoke. People who are addicted usually smoke a lot, increasing exposure to all the harmful chemicals contained in the smoke.”