June 1st, 2010
04:03 PM ET

U.S. cigarette brands tops in cancer causing chemicals

By Miriam Falco
CNN Medical Managing Editor

Smokers of U.S. brand cigarettes may get more bang for their buck in the worst way according to a small study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers found U.S. made cigarettes contain more cancer-causing chemicals than some cigarettes brands made elsewhere around the world.

“Not all cigarettes are made alike” says Dr. Jim Pirkle, deputy director for science at the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health. He says this is the first study to show that “U.S. cigarettes have more of the major carcinogen [TSNAs] than foreign made cigarettes." TSNAs are “tobacco-specific nitrosamines,” the major cancer-causing substance in tobacco.

126 smokers in five cities – Waterloo, Ontario; Melbourne, Victoria (Australia); London, England, Buffalo, New York, and Minneapolis, Minnesota – were recruited for this study.

They were between the ages of 18 and 55 and smoked at least 10 cigarettes a day for the past year and had been brand loyal for at least three months. The cigarettes smoked by the study recruits represented some of the more popular brands for each country including: Players light and DuMaurier in Canada; Marlboro, Newport Light, Camel Light in the U.S.; Peter Jackson and Peter Stuyvesant in Australia; and Benson & Hedges and Silk Cut Purple in the United Kingdom.

Scientists analyzed more than 2,000 cigarette butts to get the data they are reporting today, says Pirkle.

When researchers compared cigarette brands in the U.S. to those in Canada and Australia, they found three times higher levels of the cancer causing substance in the U.S. smokers’ mouths. The mouth levels are important because they give an indication of what levels if carcinogens are going into the lungs. (Smoking tobacco is a major cause of lung cancer).

“If you want to stop exposure to these things, you have to stop smoking.”

They also found twice as much TSNA in the urine samples of U.S. smokers compared to those in Canada and Australia, an indication that cancer-causing substance has traveled throughout the body.

There is no one group that speaks for the tobacco institute anymore, according to Darryl Jason, a spokesman for the Tobacco Merchants Association (TMA), which is why he couldn’t comment on the study. The TMA was founded in 1915 to “manage information of vital interest to the worldwide tobacco industry according to their website. Jason did point out that cigarettes manufactured in the U.S. contain a different blend of tobacco from cigarettes made elsewhere.

The study acknowledges that there are different types of tobacco depending where the cigarettes are made. But that’s only one factor says Pirkle: “The TSNA levels largely come from the way tobacco is cured.” The heating process, humidity and the type of the ferlizer used to grow the tobacco also contribute to the levels of cancer causing substances, says Pirkle.

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soundoff (183 Responses)
  1. Pete

    Well when I did smoke I've noticed that Canadian ciggarettes were different then those in the US. The Canadian brands seemed to be a lot smaller (shorter and thiner) in comparrison to US brands, however their packages contained more (25 compared to 20). So if you are just analysizing the butts of the cigarrettes you may not be getting an accurate reading of toxins because the people in Canada generally could be just smoking more (as in their 25 packs). I don't know if they looked at that or not or compared an entire smoked pack of butts and calculated a total amount per pack. But that is one thing that didn't seem to be looked at in this study.

    Anyways, I've been smoke free for 2 years now and happy I quit...

    June 2, 2010 at 16:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Eric

    People have a right to choose whether they want to smoke or not. There should be no government agency dictating whether or not we can do something. I don't smoke cigarettes anymore but I find it abhorrent to think that anyone would condone the government taking away someones choice as to what they want to do. See how well it's worked with other drugs.

    June 2, 2010 at 16:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Leo

      Eric, in the US, that's not an issue. People have to come up with their own health insurance, but in countries like Canada and the UK where medicine is socialized, but free....nicotine addicts are a problem, because the damage they do to themselves by becoming addicts inevitably comes back to haunt them with all the medical attention they require to deal with their new-found medical issues. That affects the rest of the taxpaying public, because our taxes go up to pay for these people who have been "enjoying" smoking for so many years, and who now have to "pay the piper". They were too stupid to realize that smoking was dangerous, and by the time they realize it, it's too late, and those 70-plus carcinogens have already "gone to work".

      November 12, 2017 at 19:51 | Report abuse |
  3. Yve

    As a long term smoker who fell victim to tobacco companies giving out sample cigarettes to children, I've noticed the recent change in the way cigarettes taste and smell and how they immediately affect my health.
    It seems since tobacco companies were mandated by law to include chemicals in the cigarettes to make them fire compliant, they've become even deadlier. Because cigarettes have been known to cause cancer and other illness and people are assumed to just quit, does that give the okay to add more deadly chemicals without due regard? Maybe the US is trying to reduce the population and at the same time make money.
    I agree with AC below, why are they even allowed to sell them legally if they cause so many problems.
    Since I enjoy smoking (not the crap they're selling here) I think I will try to get cigarettes from overseas.
    Thanks for bringing attention to this issue!

    June 2, 2010 at 16:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. John

    Anyone that believes the propoganda put out by tobaccofreekids is truly an idiot.

    June 2, 2010 at 16:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Wzrd1

    Thanks for the first comment from the Christian Temperance Union. A small minority that caused more trouble than they were worth, but got us income tax, since alcohol was banned, which was the primary source of government funding.

    As for tobacco... I'm a smoker, have been for 30 years. I've been stationed overseas for a few years supporting the war effort and I've noticed a SIGNIFICANT difference between cigarettes at home and abroad.
    OUR cigarettes are FAR harsher on the throat and have a chemical taste that I never noticed until I returned.
    I wonder WHY Canadian tobacco doesn't have the same problem? Oh yeah, they regulate the content of the consumer products, whether it is food, alcohol or tobacco. They don't judge the consumer as being less worthy of protection, they take care of their citizens.
    The US takes care of the lobbiests.

    June 2, 2010 at 16:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. John

    Quote: "The government has no right to tell a PRIVATE business owner they cant allow smoking just because Non-smokers are to lazy to take responsibility for themselves and not enter a smoking establishment."

    What a pile of self-centered crap.

    June 2, 2010 at 16:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Dawn

    If you want to continue using nicotine or comfortably cut down gradually, electronic cigarettes are the way to go. I smoked almost 2 packs a day for 23 years and quit smoking completely the first day I got my e-cigarette. Cigarettes have over 6000 TSNA's per cigarette and and equal amount of e-liquid has (according to the FDA's report) about 9, which is the same amount as pharmaceutical NRT's . Nicotine on it's own is no more dangerous than caffeine is, and has been found to be beneficial in the treatment of some diseases, but until now there has been no way to use it without horrible health dangers. Thankfully, I have found something that allowed me to quit smoking when no other method worked for me. For more info on electronic cigarettes check out e-cigarette-forum.com. They haven't been proven to be totally safe, but are much safer than cigarettes. I have 4 times the lung capacity I had while smoking, no longer smell nasty, and feel better than I have in my adult life since I switched.

    June 2, 2010 at 16:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. craig

    Thank You for Smoking (2005). A Stout goes nicely with it. I use to smoke, I loved the Major's. I'd get when I was in Ireland drinking way too much. The locals would ask me for a smoke thinking I had a Marlboro LIght. When they saw the Major's they said "ahh no, killed me pa" Drinking too much is bad. Smoking at all is bad. I decided to quit smoking, it wasn't easy, but, what is. Like many have said, we're all dying anyway, but, why do it with some of those nasty cancers more than likely linked to smoking. It's 5:12, I'm going to go have a beer.

    June 2, 2010 at 17:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Lou

    I'm not a smoker, but I do believe in freedom, as long as one's behavior doesn't impinge on another's freedoms. So, the article is simply informing everyone that U.S. cigarettes are stronger in carcinogens than in other countries. That would seem to be at least somewhat important to know. It may influence some, who are concerned about their health, to stop smoking. If, on the other hand, you choose to smoke, I think it is your right. Simply pick a safe place where you are not smoking near people who would rather not have smoke blown in their face, and please keep it away from the kids!
    And, finally, it is true that there are many types of substances that are a detriment to one's health. We all know that.

    June 2, 2010 at 17:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Perry

    I found it interesting as I read this article that the group doing the study forgot to include how each of these brands is processed. Here in the states tobacco is 1st leached of all chemicals.(this includes nicotine & tar) This brew,called mother's liquor, is then stored in big vats where other ingredients are added later. Once the tobacco has been dried from this process and shredded or grated into the desired size, this concoction is then added back into the tobacco by a soak bath. Most people don't realize that manufacturers are allowed a certain amount of "floor sweepings" in each batch or that "stale" or old tobacco is up 50% of each cigarette. These all have a factor in chemical levels in the product. Most tobacco producing countries do not use this method due to tradition or regulation.

    June 2, 2010 at 18:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Lisa

    Dan had a good question that seems to be ignored. What do the substances listed in cigarettes (especially, US cigarettes) do to the human body?

    June 2, 2010 at 18:03 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Leo

      Lisa, there are more than 70 KNOWN carcinogens in cigarette smoke. They can give you: cancer of the mouth, lips, throat, larynx, esophagus, bladder, kidney, liver, stomach, and pancreas; they can also contribute to you getting coronary heart disease, heart attack, stroke, damaged blood vessels, bronchitis, emphysema, and pneumonia. Maybe it’s time nicotine addicts started paying attention to those gory pictures on their packs, and realize that they could be next!

      November 12, 2017 at 19:43 | Report abuse |
  12. T-bone

    Dan ,
    If I open a beer and take a drink , I don't force that beer down everybody's throat around me ....when you fire up a smoke EVERYBODY is forced to partake of the exhaust . Kids are especially at risk . Cigarettes are the only product that kills over half of the people using it . But like most smokers , you don't want to hear about all the bad aspects of your addiction , which are many . Besides , the article IS about smoking , not beer . So , feel free to extoll the virtue's of smoking !

    June 2, 2010 at 18:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. GM

    As a tobacco control scientist (and a recovering smoker who struggles with this addiction every day) I would like to address a few issues that have been overlooked:
    1) Secondary smoke is undoubtedly harmful (most recently noted to increase cardiovascular risks); however, recent research has begun to explore the effects of tertiary smoke. In fact, a recent study concluded that tobacco-related carcinogens have been found in children (from non-smoking environments) who were exposed to tertiary smoke (industrial building converted to school). This means, exposure could occur for sometime in "shared spaces" (i.e., apartments, hotels, cars...etc.).
    2) Weston: There is no research on the efficacy of e-cigarettes in terms of quitting, nor the safety of them. The National Institutes of Health and CDC are currently exploring this issue.
    3) Cigarette smoke has negative effects on every organ in the human body. I would caution others who get hung up on the issue of lung cancer. It has been linked to bladder, esophageal, leukemia, cervical, pancreatic, kidney, stomach, lung...amongst others.
    4) Tobacco related deaths account for nearly 1 in 5 deaths in the US each year. Many of these disease states fall in the areas of cancers, respiratory and cardiovascular; all of which are extraordinarily costly to treat. Cigarette smoking, much like the current obesity epidemic is a significant burden on our health care system; for which we all pay.
    5) A "safe cigarette" is the absence of any. Should we strip all of the carcinogens linked to the various cancers, the nicotine (why smokers become addicted) would remain thus increasing cardiovascular risks of smokers as well as bystanders.
    6) For those who believe cigarettes should be banned, I am confident we ("tobacco controllers") will do so. Tobacco companies are focusing energy elsewhere (developing nations) to continue sales while concurrently partnering with pharmaceutical companies to develop alternatives to cigarettes (tobacco pellets, e-cigarettes and the like). Recently, I had a conversation with the Director of R&D from Atria (formerly Philip Morris) who has been charged with developing alternative products as the company is anticipating a full ban on cigarettes within the next 15-20 years.

    June 2, 2010 at 19:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Crux

    So CDC used smokers from five cities in a few select countries, called it a study, and determined it was worthwhile to publish? I am not a smoker but have sampled smokes from around the world in my travels and this article is way off base IMO. Cigarettes I have tried in Asia and some parts of Europe are much harsher than the ones in the States.

    June 2, 2010 at 19:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. RSweeney

    Yet the illness and death rates from smoking ANY of these products is essentially the same in all these nations and smoker populations.

    Why no mention that it appears that 300% increase (or decrease) of TSNA's has no impact on disease?

    It would appear that TSNA's are NOT the major issue driving disease.

    June 2, 2010 at 20:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. John

    A few of you mentioned the electronic cigarettes. For the record, they are not all created "equal". Just like we have problems with quality and safety from other items from China, the e-cigs are no exception. The inferior ones are setting a bad rep for the product.

    Overall, they are still the safest way to smoke. You get nicotine without the 4000+ hazardous chemicals from burning tobacco. They are a green product, being they don't produce a ton of cigarette butts and the battery is rechargable hundreds of times. They also cost tons less than real tobacco. A win-win for the consumer.

    The real politics come in with the FDA and Treasury Departments. While they want everyone to quit smoking, they don't want to loose the tax revenue on tobacco. Thus the reason why they keep raising taxes on tobacco products on the smaller and smaller population of smokers. When that runs out, all the do-gooders will have their coffee or fast food taxed because someone has to fund the government.

    With consumers switching to the inexpensive VaporCigarettes, the FDA started blocking the imports, stating that it contains nicotine (a drug) and they don't know the health effects of inhaling nicotine. Strange, that is whats in every real cigarette plus a ton of other chemicals. The real truth is they don't want a product on the market that is going to take away tax revenue. You can buy gum or nicotine patches over the counter in any drug store, even some gas stations. Funny how e-cigs are being treated differently when it delivers the same drug (nicotine) in the same fashion (smoke/vaporized) as a real cigarette.

    Just a few weeks ago the state of Utah banned the sale and use of electronic cigarettes. Any bets that NY or CA will follow next?

    They should do a study on e-cigarettes versus real cigarettes. Oh wait, that would put egg on their face.

    June 3, 2010 at 11:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Allan

    The near extinction of pelicans by DDT, Bis-phenols and impaired male sexual development, cigarettes and cancer are clear indications that chemicals have harmful biological effects on humans. Animals have basically the same genetic and epigenetic mechanisms that human animals have. Chemicals can act to modify the function of our genes and therefore our current health and the phenotype of future generations. To ignore animal research on the harmful effects of chemicals and call it inconclusive is insane. We can never do the perfect experiment on humans, that is with some subjects exposed and some not exposed (controls). Industry will drag their feet while we wait for information that is "conclusive" but near impossible to acquire. We must rely on legitimate animal studies now and begin to limit the spewing of chemicals into our kids bodies. A doomsday scenario can be conjured ... the mass extinction of life on earth due to genetically lethal chemical pollution of the Earth.

    June 5, 2010 at 11:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Michelle

    Thank-you Dan I've been saying same for years about booze and couldn't care if this report didn't mention booze,it should have .
    IS WAY WORSE than smokes..and 2nd hand posion from smkoing wake up idiots.Only thing doing the damge is booze and big time the pollution from the factories.Before some moron abuses me,I have a right to my opinion.

    June 6, 2010 at 07:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. PH True-blue

    For those who are nicotine-free now or are in the process of quitting (cigarette, e-cigarette, candy-like nicotine, etc.), what a wise decision!
    You probably won't exchange it for a nobel price.

    Being a non-smoker not only reduce the risk of lung cancer, it actually has many other health benefits including reduced risks in cardiovascular diseases, diabetes complication, ..., etc. The best bet is that you already lengthen your life expectancy, provided...

    ... provided you don't drink irresponsibly, never DUI, take precaution to avoid any exposures that may cause HIV/AIDS, lucky not to contract any serious acute infectious disease, exercise regularly, eat right, and etc.

    Statistics tells people tend to have the mentality: yes smoking is bad, diseases can happen, but ... it is never going to happen to me. You bet! Oh well, just hope that eveyone is doing their part to have a fairly decent life style, otherwise they better cross their fingers and wish their ancesters have passed excellent healthy (disease-protective) genes onto them! It is almost like the chance of winning a lottery!

    June 12, 2010 at 21:22 | Report abuse | Reply
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