Chemicals in Cigarette Smoke: Hydrogen Cyanide & Carbon Monoxide

by Dr Antonio Howell, MD

in quit smoking

Dr. Howell

The US government approved the use of more than 500 additives in cigarettes. The problem is, when these additives are burned it produces thousands of chemical compounds, some of which are carcinogenic and are harmful and poisonous.


woman hand holding a cigarette with smokeHydrogen cyanide and carbon monoxide are among these by-products found in cigarette smoke. Hydrogen cyanide is a poisonous, colorless gas that was once used in World War II as a genocidal weapon.

Naturally, no one would want to breathe hydrogen cyanide, but smokers do it on a daily basis. And the worse of it, even non-smokers are unwillingly exposed to this potent toxic chemical through secondhand smoke. Cigarette smoking is among the leading source of cyanide exposure other than industries associated with the use of this harmful chemical.

Cyanide is used in numerous products like plastics, textiles, and papers. Pest control companies use cyanide to kill insects, rats and other home and industrial pests.

Cyanide Poisoning in smaller amounts can cause headache, weakness, vomiting, nausea, and dizziness. Exposure in larger quantity can lead to irregular heartbeats, gasping, unconsciousness, seizures, and even death. The more severe the symptoms are the more severe the exposure is. Ingestion and skin contact may exhibit similar symptoms. Persons showing severe symptoms must be immediately brought to the hospital for treatment.

Carbon Monoxide or CO is an odor and colorless, toxic gas normally as a by-product of a burning fuel. Cigarette can contain high levels of this poisonous gas.

So what happens now when you inhale carbon monoxide? When you smoke, carbon monoxide finds its way to your bloodstream and immediately binds with the hemoglobin in your lungs producing COHb. This results to the decreased amount of oxygen in your body.

A person exposed to little amounts of carbon monoxide (as to the case of most secondhand smokers) may experience fatigue, and increased chest pains for people suffering from chronic heart condition. Exposure to higher amount of this noxious compound can lead to flu-like symptoms (without the fever) such as dizziness, weakness, headache, nausea, vomiting, disorientation, and lethargy. Extreme exposure to this compound can lead to loss of consciousness and even death.

Cigarette smoke has high amounts of carbon monoxide. Most smokers have very high COHb levels in their blood. Far much greater than non-smokers. But this doesn’t make non-smokers safe from carbon monoxide. People who are exposed to secondhand smoke have exhibited an increased amount of carbon monoxide in the blood.


The Danger of Smoking

Cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000 chemical compounds, with 70 known carcinogens, and more than 200 poisonous chemicals. Smoking increases your risk of cancer and other deadly diseases. It harms you and your family. It makes you look old, gives you bad breath, weakens you, and gives you nothing but trouble.

But it’s never too late to quit and undo the harmful effects of smoking to your body. Quitting smoking at the earliest possible time you have increases your chance of recovering from these harmful effects and regaining your health. Know your choices by consulting your doctor.



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