• What's in cigarettes and cigarette smoke?
  • Health hazards of smoking
  • Women and smoking
  • Children and smoking
  • Giving up smoking
What the tobacco industry won't tell you!

Cigarette smoking is addicting. It is difficult to kick that habit once one is hooked.

Cigarette smoke contains over 4000 chemicals. Of these, over 400 have been identified as toxic and about 60 of those have been identified as carcinogens or co-carcinogens.

Some of the chemicals are described below:
Nicotine An alkaloid poison only found in the tobacco plant and is the addictive substance in tobacco. It has also been used as an insecticide.
Tar The particulate matter in the smoke. It is usually found as a brown, sticky substance in ashtrays. It is carcinogenic.
Benzopyrene Found in coal tar and cigarette smoke. It is one of the most potent cancer-causing agents in the world.
Carbon Monoxide A colourless, odourless gas created by incomplete combustion. This gas displaces oxygen from the red blood cells, forming carboxyhaemoglobin. Less oxygen is available to the body.
Cyanide A gas that is often mentioned in spy thrillers as a “suicide pill” and is also used in gas chambers when convicts are executed.
Arsenic A poison used as rat killer. Makes your lips burn and gives you bad breath.
Ammonia A colourless, pungent gas whose compounds are used as a fertilizer and a household cleaner. Tobacco industry says it adds flavour. Scientists have discovered that ammonia helps you to absorb more nicotine and keeping you hooked.
Acetone Used as a solvent in nail polish, this volatile liquid is also used as a paint remover. Tobacco industry refuses to say how it gets into cigarettes.
Cadmium A metal found in storage batteries. It damages the liver, kidneys and brain, and stays in the body for years.
Formaldehyde Causes cancer and can damage lungs, skin and digestive system. Embalmers use it to preserve bodies. Science laboratories use it to preserve specimens.
Propylene Glycol The tobacco industry claims they add it to keep cheap reconstituted tobacco from drying out. Scientists say it helps in the delivery of nicotine to the brain and keeps you hooked.


People may be aware that smoking causes lung cancer and heart disease, but it is not generally known that smoking is directly responsible for many other diseases. The following are some of the diseases and health problems caused by smoking:
Heart disease Smoking is the major cause of heart attacks. Within one minute of your first puff on a cigarette, your heart begins to beat faster. Your blood vessels are narrowed, raising your blood pressure and forcing your heart to work harder.
Lung cancer If you smoke, you are 20 times more likely to die of lung cancer.
Emphysema Long before you die from lung cancer, your lung capacity will be reduced. You may develop emphysema. 90% of all cases of emphysema are caused by smoking.
Mouth cancer Smoking is a major cause of cancer of the tongue and mouth.
Throat cancer Smoking is also a major cause for cancer of the larynx. As smoke enters your throat, cancer causing chemicals condense on your mucous membrane.
Stomach ulcers Smokers are more prone to peptic ulcer disease. The ulcers do not heal as fast and are more likely to recur in smokers.
Cataract Smokers and even former smokers have a much higher chance of getting cataract.
Skin damage Tar from tobacco smoke turns your fingers yellow and stains your fingernails and teeth. Smoking leads to wrinkling and premature aging.
Gum disease Smoking makes it harder for the saliva to remove germs in the mouth. Smoking also stains the teeth, and gives rise to bad breath. Gum disease is common in smokers.

  • Smoking is a major cause of coronary heart disease. 65% of heart attacks in women under the age of 50 years are caused by smoking
  • A woman who smokes and takes the birth control pill increases the risk of stroke or heart disease by as much as forty times
  • Women who smoke are slower to conceive than nonsmoking women, tend to experience more menstrual problems and may experience earlier menopause, and have earlier onset of osteoporosis
  • Women smokers have a higher incidence of cervical cancer than nonsmokers
  • Smoking during pregnancy has been linked to lower birth weight, infant respiratory disease, fetal growth retardation, perinatal death and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
  • Babies born to smoking women weigh 200 grams less than babies born to nonsmoking women. They tend to have higher rates of pneumonia and bronchitis in their first year of life
  • Babies of smoking mothers have a higher frequency of wheezing, coughing and colds and they also have more frequent visits to their doctors
  • Parental smoking is a causal factor contributing to reduced lung capacity in children and may trigger asthma attacks in children

  • Children are starting to smoke at a much younger age during the past decade
  • A survey of school children from age 8 to 13 years in Hong Kong showed that about 8% of children admitted to ever smoked. In girls, the prevalence of ever-smoking increased from 1 % at aged 8 to 21% by aged 13 and over; in boys, the figures were 4% and 37% respectively
  • Almost half of the children from 8 to 13 years old in Hong Kong are living with at least one smoker at home
  • Children who smoke or are exposed to second hand smoke at home have more cough, phlegm, wheeze, nose and throat symptoms compared to those that are not exposed
  • Children living with smoking family members are more likely to have smoked than those living with nonsmokers. The larger the number of smokers at home, the higher the risk of having any of the above chest symptoms
  • Babies born to smoking women weigh 200 grams less than babies born to nonsmoking women. They tend to have higher rates of pneumonia and bronchitis in their first year of life
  • Babies of smoking mothers have a higher frequency of wheezing, coughing and colds and they also have more frequent visits to their doctors
  • Parental smoking is a causal factor contributing to reduced lung capacity in children and may trigger asthma attacks in children

* Lam TH et al Smoking, passive smoking and respiratory ill health in primary 3-6 children. COSH.


A smoker's body continues to function making adjustments to the assaults of chemicals. When a smoker gives up smoking, the body takes time to recover. The body sets about the process of repair and clean-up of years of damage and residue.

Some people quit smoking without any noticeable change; others experience several or most of the following:
  • Thirst, often accompanied by a dry mouth. Drinking lots of fluids, especially water, assists in the clean-up
  • Sleep disturbances. One of the more frustrating and common side effects
  • Sleeping more. Having lost the chemical boost caused by nicotine, ex-smokers may find themselves very relaxed. Some even feel that they could sleep at any time. Naps after meals and extra hours of sleep at night will pay off.
  • Difficult to sleep. Some complain that it is difficult to sleep when they reduce their smoking. One should enjoy the extra hours – get up, read, write letters or go for a walk. Replace cigarettes with stimulants like tea, cocoa, or cola or with milk, or fruit juice.
  • Coughing. Over a period of years of smoking, the lungs produce large amount of phlegm to protect themselves. During quitting, this material loosens and is removed from the airways as cilia begin to move again. Often people will cough more for a while- several weeks.
  • Constipation. Many people complain of constipation from drinking less coffee, tea and other stimulants that were associated with smoking. Drinking four to six glasses of water a day will help. Roughage foods such as bran, raw fruits and vegetables will be helpful to counteract the problem.
  • Headache. This may last a day, but may return a week later. The cause is not known.
  • Hunger. The body's absorption of food is improved. To avoid weight gain, do some exercises. Almost all smokers tend to eat more when they quit smoking.
  • Tremor. Hands and fingers may tremble slightly for a few weeks.
  • Perspiration. Frequent showers can help. Those who exercise regularly are less likely to experience severe perspiration.
  • Mouth sores. A small percentage of ex-smokers suffer from mouth irritations. The blisters, sores or inflammation of gums are caused by chemical adjustments. It could be due to vitamin deficiency which a better diet and vitamin supplement will help.
  • Spaced-out feeling. Vague annoying symptoms linked with carbon monoxide withdrawal. Space and distance are affected, and a floating feeling as well as lack of concentration is experienced. Driving one's car or operating machinery should be avoided at this time if possible.
  • Itchy hands and feet. This is caused by improved circulation. Seldom lasts long
  • Sore scalp. This is also caused by improved circulation. Seldom lasts long.

The following are helpful:
  • Drink plenty of water, milk, and fruit juice
  • Avoid sugar sweetened snacks, chocolate, soft drinks and alcohol
  • Eat a well-balanced diet
  • Take extra vitamins B and C for the first few months after quitting
  • Get extra rest and sleep
  • Practice new methods of relaxation
  • Outdoor activities or exercises

Information of this website was modified from education materials of the British Columbia Lung Association
For more information, visit the following websites:
The Lung Association:
The Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health:
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