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Kreteks / Clove Cigarettes: a Safe Smoking Alternative?

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Updated May 31, 2014

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Kreteks / Clove Cigarettes: a Safe Smoking Alternative?

Whole Cloves

Brian Yarvin/Photodisc/Getty Images

Question: Kreteks / Clove Cigarettes: a Safe Smoking Alternative?

I smoke clove cigarettes, and I've heard that they're safer than smoking regular cigarettes. I know that conventional cigarettes have so many toxic chemicals in them, while clove cigarettes are more natural. Isn't that better for me?

Answer: Clove cigarettes, also known as kreteks (pronounced cree-techs), are often mistakenly thought of as a safe smoking alternative. They are not. Produced in Indonesia and distributed worldwide, kreteks are made of up of approximately 60 to 80% tobacco, 20 to 40% ground cloves, clove oil and other additives. Usually machine-rolled, clove cigarettes come with or without filters. While kreteks do not contain the thousands of toxic chemicals that traditional cigarettes do, they are far from good for you.

Cigarettes With Training Wheels

Like bidi cigarettes, kreteks are often a young person's first introduction to tobacco. Between the flavor of cloves and the colorful packaging, this type of cigarette appeals to young smokers and is for this reason considered a "gateway" product.

Health Risks of Smoking Kreteks

Studies have shown that kreteks deliver more nicotine, carbon monoxide and tar than regular cigarettes, and that kretek smokers face up to 20 times the risk of lung damage as that of nonsmokers. Kretek smokers also increase their risk of heart disease and certain cancers, such as cancer of the oral cavity, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, and liver.

Eugenol

Naturally occurring in cloves, eugenol is a mild antiseptic and anesthetic. It is sometimes added to traditional cigarettes and is also used in dental products. It is thought that the numbing feature of cloves allows the kretek smoker to inhale longer and more deeply.

In large doses, cloves or clove oil can cause a variety of potentially dangerous problems:

  • nausea / vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • diarrhea
  • seizures
  • accelerated breathing and heartbeat
  • sleepiness
  • burns in the mouth or throat
  • intestinal bleeding
  • liver or kidney failure.

In Summary

Kretek cigarettes are not a safe smoking alternative. Any product that must be lit, burned and inhaled is hazardous to delicate lung tissue and other organs in our bodies. And kretek smokers face the same risk of nicotine addiction that conventional smokers do.

There is no such thing as a safe cigarette.

Sources:

Alternative Cigarettes May Deliver More Nicotine Than Conventional Cigarettes August 2003. NIDA Notes, Volume 18, number 2.

Bidis and Kreteks Fact Sheet 28 February 2007. Centers for Disease Control.

Worldwide, Products Other Than Cigarettes Are Children's First Step to Tobacco Use 18 July 2006. National Cancer Institute.

Clove (Eugenia aromatica) and Clove oil (Eugenol) 01 September 2006. Medline Plus.

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