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Pesticides in Cigarette Smoke


Updated July 27, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Pesticides in Cigarette Smoke
Nicholas Eveleigh/Photodisc/Getty Images

A pesticide is defined as a chemical used to kill pests, usually insects. Pesticides are toxic, and if we use them on our lawns or gardens, we're careful to avoid direct contact, if possible. We certainly wouldn't knowingly breathe pesticides into our lungs, yet that is exactly what smokers do every time they puff on a cigarette.

Researchers at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado, have recently identified three previously undetected pesticides in cigarette smoke.

The pesticides are:

  • Flumetralin - This chemical is known to be toxic to humans, and is carcinogenic. It's an endocrine disruptor, and its use on tobacco plants has been banned in Europe.
  • Pendimethalin - This is another endocrine disrupter that targets the thyroid specifically. Pendimethalin is carcinogenic and toxic to humans.
  • Trifluralin - Like the other two pesticides mentioned, trifluralin is an endocrine disrupter, is toxic to humans and is carcinogenic.
These pesticides find their way into cigarettes because they're used on tobacco plants growing in the fields.

Endocrine Disrupters
Endocrine glands produce hormones which regulate reproduction, growth and development in humans and animals. Endocrine disrupters are chemicals that interfere with this natural process by mimicking or blocking normal hormone function.

With the use of electron micrometer mass-spectrometry on a variety of smoke samples from both experimental and commercial cigarettes, the scientists were able to see the chemical makeup of the 3 substances and identify them as dinitroaniline pesticides. They also discovered that these 3 pesticides are present in both mainstream smoke and sidestream smoke, and survive the combustion process in levels as high as 10 percent of the original residue left on tobacco.

"No information exists for long-term, low-level inhalation exposures to these compounds, and no data exists to establish the possible synergistic effect of these pesticides with each other, or with the other 4000-plus compounds that have been identified in tobacco smoke." said Kent Voorhees, researcher and co-author of the study The Detection of Nitro Pesticides in Mainstream and Sidestream Cigarette Smoke Using Electron Monochromator-Mass Spectrometry.


"The Detection of Nitro Pesticides in Mainstream and Sidestream Cigarette Smoke Using Electron Monochromator-Mass Spectrometry." A. John Dane, Crystal D. Havey, and Kent J. Voorhees. Analytical Chemistry, 78 (10), 3227 - 3233, 2006. American Chemical Society.

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