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Benzene in Cigarette Smoke


Updated September 08, 2013

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

Benzene in Cigarette Smoke
Photo © Stockxpert

What Benzene is:

Benzene is a solvent classified by the EPA as a human carcinogen and has been identified as a known cause of leukemia.

What Benzene is Used For:

Benzene is used in the manufacturing of other chemicals, including:
  • nylon
  • polystyrene
  • pesticides
  • gasoline
Benzene is one of the 20 most widely used chemicals in production in the United States.

Benzene in Cigarette Smoke:

Benzene is present in cigarette smoke and accounts for half of all human exposure to this health hazard. While definitive conclusions have not yet been drawn, it is generally thought that smokers face an increased risk of leukemia over their nonsmoking counterparts.

Benzene Health Effects:

Short-term, high level exposure to benzene, through inhalation or ingestion, causes damage to the central nervous system and can lead to:
  • paralysis
  • coma
  • convulsions
  • dizziness
  • sleepiness
  • rapid heart rate
  • tightness in the chest
  • tremors
  • rapid breathing
Long-term exposure to benzene can cause:
  • decreased red blood cells through damage to bone marrow
  • anemia
  • leukemia
  • excessive bleeding
  • genetic damage
  • negative effects on the immune system
Benzene is but one of many poisonous and carcinogenic chemical compounds found in air tainted with cigarette smoke. Breathing in ETS threatens life for smokers and nonsmokers alike.


"Benzene." 06 November, 2008. U.S. National Library of Medicine.

"The Contribution of Benzene to Smoking-Induced Leukemia." 04 April 2000. Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol 108.

"Air Toxics of Concern in Oregon." October, 2006. Department of Environmental Quality - State of Oregon.

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