It’s not the tobacco, it’s not the additives; it’s the smoke!

Mike Siegel recently posted a blistering argument against trying to improve the health effects of cigarettes by removing the various non-tobacco ingredients. We agree with his main thesis in this, but would like to take the point one step further (and, in so doing, disagree with one of Siegel’s secondary points): Removing the tobacco from cigarettes would also do little to make them less unhealthy.

If people continued to smoke rolls of, say, ground cooking herbs or sawdust, ten to twenty times a day, day after day, the health effects would be similar to what we now see. (They would undoubtedly be somewhat higher or lower, but probably similar and it is difficult to predict what direction they would move in.) Put another way, freuquently smoking shredded plants is quite unhealthy, whereas the tobacco per se has relatively little to do with this. It is not the tobacco, it is the smoke.

Of course, if cigarettes contained only sawdust, consumption would drop to about zero, nearly eliminating the risk. But intentionally making something maximally unappealing by creating pure deadweight losses is unethical public policy — if a ban is sufficiently supported and legal, it can be enacted. If there is not support for a ban then a crypto-ban via ruining the quality of a product (e.g., by taking the flavoring out of smokeless tobacco or taking the tobacco out of cigarettes) violates core ethics of making public policy in a free pluralistic society.

Carl V. Phillips

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  • Paul Wylie  On January 26, 2010 at 9:30 am


    Point taken however you slice and dice it The safest cigarette is no cigarette. While, you are quite correct its the smoke that causes health issues not just tobacco but smoking herbals as well. You also missed the point tobacco has a high concentraation of the chemical nicotine which has highly addictive properties more so than cocanie and morphine and that is dangerous.

    The e-cigarette makes claims that it is a safe alternative to smoking. However, the product does contain nicotine and it is addictive.

    We at are watching and reporting on the smokeless cigarette issues.

    • M. C. O  On January 26, 2010 at 9:35 am

      Mr Wylie, you have been successfully brainwashed. Do not pass go, do not collect 200 of the currency of your choice.

      Nicotine is found in many popular vegetables and quite naturally in your body. Had any irresistable urges for a tomato or an eggplant lately.

    • Courtney E. Heffernan  On January 26, 2010 at 10:37 am

      I think this underscores the problem about caring whether things are “addictive”. Why should we bother? Nicotine, without smoke, is a rather benign substance. About as harmful as a cup of coffee, and with some of the same beneficial properties (temporarily increases concentration, mild stimulant). Moreover, nicotine is a known neural protective agent (delays onset of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s) and used in the treatment of inflammatory illnesses like colitis. So, why, again, is something with addictive properties – like nicotine – “dangerous”?

      • Paul Wylie  On January 26, 2010 at 10:55 am

        If it weren’t for nicotine, people wouldn’t smoke tobacco. Why? Because of the more than 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, nicotine is the primary one that acts on the brain, altering people’s moods, appetites, and alertness in ways they find pleasant and beneficial. As the noted tobacco researcher M.A.H. Russell once wrote, “There is little doubt that if it were not for the nicotine in tobacco smoke, people would be little more inclined to smoke than they are to blow bubbles or to light sparklers.”*

        Unfortunately, as is widely known, nicotine has a dark side: It is highly addictive. Once smokers become hooked on it, they must get their fix of it regularly, sometimes several dozen times a day. Cigarette smoke contains 43 known carcinogens, which means that long-term smoking can amount to a death sentence. In the U.S. alone, 420,000 Americans die every year from tobacco-related illnesses.

  • Jonathan Bagley  On January 26, 2010 at 9:58 am

    I’m interested in how harmful just “smoke” actually is. In the UK the anti-tobacco industry tries to convince the public that even very short term exposure to tobacco smoke is harmful. Presumably this is not because of some possible harmful stimulant effects of nicotine, as there are no controls on the sale of nicotine gum, which gives a nicotine dose many thosands of times higher than a few breaths of ETS, so it must be because of the tobacco smoke. Yet nobody in the UK has suggested controls on log fires, incense burning, bonfires, barbeques etc. From what I’ve gathered as many lives would be saved by banning home frying and roasting as by smoking bans in bars (probably very few in both cases).

  • Paul  On January 26, 2010 at 11:30 am


    I agree with you that the harm associated with second hand smoke is much lower than popularly thought. It is just that it has been a very effective tool in mobilizing the anti-smoking forces and legislation, to cast it as a general danger to the population.

    Myself, though I don’t support all smoke free legislation, I do remember the times before where smoke was difficult to avoid indoors and much prefer the now common smoke free spaces. But I prefer it because it smells better not because I think it makes much of a difference to my health.

  • James Dunworth  On January 26, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    Paul Wylie, I think that if most people taking up the electronic cigarette were non-smokers then you might have a right to be concerned. However, I have yet to hear of one non-smoker who has done so.

    A survey we carred out found that most electronic cigarette smokers have actually tried to quit several times before.

    Furthermore, as the electronic cigarette contains less nicotine than a regular cigarette, switching to e-cigarettes means they are actually switching to a less addictive substance – indeed, when Murray Laugeson’s assessed the electronic cigarette as a possible smoking cessation aid his main concern was that it might not have enough nicotine to assuage smoker’s nicotine cravings.

    • Paul Wylie  On January 26, 2010 at 3:58 pm


      I am in agreement the e-cigarette makes for a fine substitute. It is a proven alternative to the combustible but as a cessation device I am not convinced.

      In your survey you found that most of the electronic cigarette users have tried to quit before which gives clear testament that nicotine addition is very powerful and therefore repeated attempts to quit is the norm for most addicts.

      For example we are marketing a smokeless under the brand name of No Smokes that is 100% free of nicotine. The research that was carried out we found during development they completed in-depth studies of nicotine and how it is received and metabolized within the body through inhalation.

      They ultimately found a proprietary blend of tobacco flavors, citrus flavors, Ethyl Nicotinate and N-Methylethanolamine that provide satisfaction to a smoker. N-Methylethanolamine triggers the nicotinic brain receptors much like nicotine. N-Methylethanolamine is widely used in the health food industry in products that promote increased memory and stress relief.

      The other active ingredient, ethyl nicotinate, is a derivative of Vitamin B and is widely used in No Smokes to dilate the capillaries in the lung which nicotine tends to contract.

      It can be used by those wanting to cut back or even stop smoking. However, we do not claim it to be a cessation device or a way of mitigating tobacco related illnesses.

      I think of it as a socially acceptable form of smoking thereby allowing smokers the rights that have been taken away due to the laws governing the use of smoking in public.

      You can find out more about the product here:

      Just copy and paste into your browser window

      • Courtney  On January 27, 2010 at 8:47 am

        I still can’t understand why, if you can provide a consumer with a product that is safer than cigarettes, you would take the nicotine away. As you’ve said above, that’s what people tend to like about smoking. Giving an ingrained smoker a device that looks like a cigarette, but provides absolutely no benefit (e.g. – no uptake of nicotine – the good stuff) is like calling “popeye’s” the first attempt at a cessation device.

        Nicotine in itself is not a dangerous substance, and being addicted to nicotine, as being addicted to caffeine is hardly cause for concern if you are able to remove the risks that are associated with the most common form of delivery. Nobody is advocating that people continue to smoke to get nicotine (unless they really want to, and can’t be convinced otherwise) – instead, the idea is to promote a safer method of delivery. Most people are amenable to switching, which, in the long run, as Carl has written about, can be safer than quitting eventually.

  • dan azzu  On January 26, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    So true, I get asked if I can supply e-cigs and herbal cigarettes (healthier!) its such nonsense and self denial. If you want to smoke stick to cigarettes, if you want to be healthy just quit- no half measures!

  • Paul  On January 26, 2010 at 11:25 pm


    Life is all about half measures. I wear a helmet rather than stop riding a bike and if I was planning on smoking for the rest of my life, I would make sure to take up ecigarettes. You are quite right that herbals are no better but if you care about your health, ecigs (or smokeless tobacco) are massively safer.

  • James Dunworth  On February 1, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    “If you want to smoke stick to cigarettes, if you want to be healthy just quit- no half measures!” Don’t think that’s a comment worth responding to, Paul, the guy’s obviously an idiot. He’s probably enough of an idiot to be granted membership of ASH international.

  • Leeanne Taomoto  On February 25, 2010 at 1:44 am

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  • Derek  On July 6, 2010 at 11:47 pm

    As I attempt to quit smoking Newport, after about 10 yrs and many attempts prior, I have tried smoking RYO by tops. I found that the craving is by far less, than that of fact, so much more that Im starting to believe there are two different cravings. As in, perhaps I’m not addicted to nicotine so much as the chemicals.


  • […] tell people and they don’t believe me because tobacco has been so demonized. The post is: It’s not the tobacco, it’s not the additives: it’s the smoke. People are under the false impression that cigarette smoke is bad because of the additives, making […]

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