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What is a cigarette and what is inside? Though it may seem obvious, tobacco is the main component of our cigarettes, but not all cigarettes are the same.

Smokers around the world prefer cigarettes of different characters, flavours, and aromas. This variety results from using different types of tobacco and ingredients.

Cigarette brands often contain many kinds to tobacco, which are blended so that the aroma, flavour, and character adapt to smokers’ taste preferences. The type of tobacco used will determine the type and amount of ingredients employed.

Tobacco ingredients

Tobacco ingredients are food-type substances that are added to tobacco during the manufacturing process and they have a specific function in the final product. For example, certain ingredients are added to balance the natural tobacco taste after the curing process and to give each brand its distinctive character in terms of taste and aroma.

Non-tobacco components

Cigarettes are not only made of tobacco. The cigarette paper that holds the tobacco, the filter that is attached to the end of the rod, the tipping paper, adhesives and printing inks are all known as non-tobacco components.

What happens when a cigarette burns?

To understand cigarette design, it helps to know how a cigarette burns.  It is the combustion process – the burning of the cigarette – that produces tar. If hay were burned instead of tobacco, it would also produce a type of tar.  When an item burns, it produces tiny particles mixed with gases – this is smoke.  A cigarette filter traps some of these particles.

When a smoker puffs on a cigarette, whole smoke, including both fine particles and gases, is sucked through the tobacco rod and the filter.  Gases pass through the filter, and some particles are trapped in it.  It is this particulate matter, minus nicotine and water, that is called tar.

Smoke has over 4,000 constituents, many of them also found in the air we breathe and our food.  These constituents include the emissions listed on packs, such as tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide. Water vapour is also produced by the combustion, because the burning of any organic material breaks down the chemical components and produces water.

Filter biodegradability

Our filter tips are biodegradable over a period of between a month and three years, depending on environmental conditions. Although we are researching more rapid breakdown, at present we know of no practical way of making consumer-acceptable filters that would degrade so quickly that they would not cause short-term littering problems.

We believe the best way to reduce potential litter problems is for consumers to dispose of filters and cigarette packs in a responsible way.

Health risks of smoking

Smoking poses real risks of serious diseases.  That’s why we are working to develop products that may be recognised as less harmful.  For more about the health risks of smoking and our harm reduction efforts, see Harm reduction.