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Cigarette Additives Increase Toxicity, According to External Analysis

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Cigarette maker Philip Morris spent years studying whether additives, such as menthol, added to the toxicity of their smokes. And several published studies—conducted by the company—have claimed that the additives had no impact on the danger of their products. 

But thanks to lawsuits against the tobacco industry, a trove of previously secret scientific and corporate documents about the research have been made public. And a multidisciplinary team of researchers, led by Marcia Wertz, of the Center for Tobacco Control Research at the University of California, San Francisco, decided to take a closer look to see if the company’s findings and methods were more smoke and mirrors than solid science.

Philip Morris’s internal analysis examined 333 cigarette additives, as described in a 2001 report by the company, and found no “meaningful effect of the ingredients on the toxicity of cigarettes.” Wertz’s study, however, found something quite different, as detailed online Tuesday in PLoS Medicine.

Compared with the tobacco company’s published findings, the external review found toxicity and particulate matter increased with additives. The team also found internal documents that indicated that the statistical analyses were changed after initial findings seemed unfavorable. The change adjusted for a jump in toxicity by pegging it to particulate matter concentration, which also increased with additives. This shift “obscured this underlying toxicity and particulate increase,” Wertz and her colleagues wrote in their paper.

That large companies work over their internal stats to their advantage might not come as much of a surprise. And many anti-smoking advocates have found claims that the health impacts of cigarette additives were neutral difficult to swallow. But the team behind the new paper noted that their finding should be a reminder that internal studies might not always be airtight—and added that the discrepant internal versus external findings as “a case study of tobacco industry scientific research being positioned strategically to prevent anticipated tobacco control regulations.”

Katherine Harmon Courage About the Author: Katherine Harmon Courage is a freelance writer and contributing editor for Scientific American. Her book Octopus! The Most Mysterious Creature In the Sea is out now from Penguin/Current. Follow on Twitter @KHCourage.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. ASHIK 12:01 pm 12/21/2011

    Smoking ocasionaly isnt injurious to health.There is a healthy limit in smoking.Limit might vary from people to people.A person himself has to figure it out. I dont smoke, never tried and i dont find any necessity to try it.There is no harm in avoiding cigaretts you know.

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  2. 2. rosiwy 1:14 pm 12/21/2011

    ASHIK, you can’t be serious? Smoking & secondhand smoke affect the blood & heart within minutes… Scientific study after study have proven there is no safe level of tobacco smoke. To quote work by Stan Glantz, “A buring cigarette is a little toxic waste dump on fire, emitting benzene, formaldehyde, ammonia, cyanide, arsenice, and many of the same chemicals in deisel exhaust.” A person might as well suck on the tail pipe of a car.

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  3. 3. Marc Levesque 6:36 pm 12/21/2011


    Ashik is a least partially right, research shows that on average those who smoke below x amount are as healthy as those who don’t smoke at all.

    Last I looked the x amount was the equivalent of less than five cigarettes a day.

    And heart rate and blood are nearly instantly affected, though I’m not sure about second hand smoke, for sure it has an effect on blood and heart, but it would depend on the concentration of the second hand smoke, the level of different chemicals present in the smoke, and room ventilation of course. For those reasons I avoid burning most incense and candles.

    And cigarette additives? for sure they raise the chance of lung disease –we should outlaw them, and a lot of people would be surprised at what clean tobacco tastes like and a lot would cut down or quit too.

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  4. 4. Dacron Mather 12:19 pm 12/22/2011

    If , as rosiwy believes, “there is no safe level of tobacco smoke’ because it contains “many of the same chemicals in deisel (sic) exhaust.” then as smokers are responsible for thousand times less combustion than than drivers- grams versus gallons a day, Mayor Bloomberg and Sci Am should put aside tobacco to take on the thousand-fold greater risk posed by internal combustion engines.

    Banning motor traffic within 1000 feet of schools and mandating sedan chair ambulances to spare hospitals deadly I.C. fumes would help, but internal combustion engine operation should ultimately be limited to the privacy of their owner’s bedrooms.

    Best step back and smell the roasting chestnuts before City Hall makes the Big Apple safe for social engineering by outlawing second hand candle smoke.

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