What’s in Them May Surprise You

Researchers continue to learn how cigarettes harm health

While cigarettes have been around for centuries, their many risks have been increasingly well understood in recent decades. Despite declines in the cigarette smoking rate, it remains the leading preventable cause of death in the United States.1


What You Need to Know

The chemicals in cigarettes can take years off your life.


Cigarette smoking remains a big problem in Colorado.

  • 15.6% of Colorado adults still smoke; that’s about 697,440 people.
  • 6,700 kids (under 18) try cigarettes for the first time each year.
  • Cigarette smoking kills more than 5,000 Coloradans each year.
  • Smoking kills more people than alcohol, AIDS, car crashes, illegal drugs, murders, and suicides combined.2
  • Last year, more than five times as many Coloradans died of tobacco use than opioid-related causes.8


Cigarette smoke is addictive and contains thousands of chemicals, including many proven to harm health.

  • Nicotine, found in all cigarettes, produces a short-term “buzz” but quickly hooks its users. Seventy of the chemicals in cigarettes are known to cause cancer.
  • Chemicals found in cigarette smoke include:
    • Lead
    • Carbon monoxide
    • Ammonia (used in cleaning products)
    • Formaldehyde
    • Arsenic3


Cigarette smoking harms nearly every organ of the body and causes cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.4

  • Secondhand smoke can also be deadly. There is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.5
  • If you quit by age 40, your risk of dying from a tobacco-related disease decreases by 90 percent.6

Common Myths About Cigarette Use

Myth: Smoking is a personal choice and doesn’t affect anyone else.
Fact: Smoking may be legal, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect others. Smoking costs Colorado more than $2 billion every year in lost productivity and medical care. Not to mention the pain we all feel when losing a loved one to tobacco-related illness. Then there’s the impact of secondhand smoke and cigarette litter. We all bear the burden of smoking.
Myth: We’re all going to die eventually, and most smokers die from smoking-related diseases late in life, so there’s no big difference.
Fact: Smoking takes about 10 years off normal life expectancy.6
Myth: Organic tobacco brands and roll-your-own cigarettes are more natural and safe than smoking factory-made cigarettes.
Fact: Although 64% of natural/organic cigarette smokers think they’re using a healthier product, these products have the same negative effects on human health. Roll-your-own tobacco contains nicotine, which is addictive. Fewer public health laws apply to fine-cut tobaccos used for roll-your-own cigarettes, so consumers may be in the dark about what they contain.7 And some studies have shown that natural cigarette brands contain higher levels of dangerous volatile compounds.8
Myth: Smoking fewer cigarettes will protect me from tobacco-related diseases.
Fact: Smoking fewer cigarettes each day, or even just smoking a few times a week, does not eliminate the negative effects on your health.9 If you want to reduce health risks, quitting cigarettes completely should be your ultimate goal. Click here to find resources to help.
1. Smoking & Tobacco Use, Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/health_effects/effects_cig_smoking/index.htm
2. The Toll of Tobacco in Colorado, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, 2017. Retrieved from https://www.tobaccofreekids.org/problem/toll-us/colorado
3. Harmful Chemicals in Tobacco Products, American Cancer Society, 2017. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/tobacco-and-cancer/carcinogens-found-in-tobacco-products.html
4. Smoking & Tobacco Use, Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/health_effects/index.htm
5. Smoking & Tobacco Use, Health Effects of Secondhand Smoke, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/secondhand_smoke/health_effects/index.htm
6. Smoking & Tobacco Use, Tobacco-Related Mortality, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/health_effects/tobacco_related_mortality/index.htm
7. Reducing Tobacco Use, A Report of the Surgeon General, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , 2000. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr4916a1.htm
8. Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, 2023. Retrieved from https://cdphe.colorado.gov/overdose-prevention
9. Mainstream Smoke Levels of Volatile Organic Compounds in 50 US Domestic Cigarette Brands Smoked with the ISO and Canadian Intense Protocols, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, 2016. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5687062/