12.6.1 Why are chemicals added to tobacco products?

Last updated: October 2023
Suggested citation: Winnall, WR. 12.6.1 Why are chemicals added to tobacco products? In Greenhalgh EM, Scollo, MM and Winstanley, MH [editors]. Tobacco in Australia: Facts and issues. Melbourne: Cancer Council Victoria; 2024. Available from https://www.tobaccoinaustralia.org.au/chapter-12-tobacco-products/12-6-1-why-are-chemicals-added-to-tobacco-products   


Tobacco product additives are defined as any substance that is added during the course of manufacture of a tobacco product, with the exception of water.1 These include flavours, preservatives, humectants (chemicals that retain moisture) and anti-microbials, but not the fertilisers or pesticides added during the growing of tobacco plants. There are almost 600 additives that have been documented in cigarettes, but individual brands usually have 40 or more additives.1

Additives were rarely used up until the 1970s, but are now common, constituting up to 10% of the weight of a cigarette or roll-you-own tobacco.1 Roll-your-own tobacco contains at least as many additives by weight as the tobacco in ready-made cigarettes (also called factory-made cigarettes).2-4 Cigars and pipe tobacco generally contain less additives by weight than cigarette tobacco.1 Cigar retailers often claim their products are ‘all natural’,5 however flavour additives and high-intensity sweeteners have been found in cigars.6-8 Some pipe tobaccos contain midribs (smaller stem that extends from the main stalk of the tobacco plant), and flavours in casing and sauces are frequently added to these.1 Waterpipe tobacco commonly contains many additives, mostly flavours and sweeteners.1 ,9 Kreteks contain significant amounts of cut cloves and sun-dried flower buds as well as other additives.10 ,11 Flavourings such as cherry, menthol and strawberry are common in bidis.12

The tobacco industry usually refers to added chemicals as ‘ingredients’. Manufacturers claim they use additives to provide consistency in their products, create unique brands, control moisture and ‘replenish natural sugars lost during leaf curing’.13,14

Regulators are most concerned with additives that increase the addictiveness, attractiveness and/or toxicity of tobacco products. Some additives, such as menthol, can increase the effects of nicotine, making quitting more difficult for smokers. Flavours, humectants and chemicals that mask the harsh feel of smoking affect the taste, smell and the ease of use. Many additives may sound innocuous, such as sugars, but once burned these produce chemicals such as aldehydes that are toxic and carcinogenic (may cause cancer).15 Many additives increase more than one of these attributes, and some increase all three of attractiveness, addictiveness and toxicity.

Additives such as humectants and flavourings are added to the tobacco filler at various stages during tobacco processing. Additives may also be added to the filter, cigarette paper and tipping paper (around the filter). Some varieties of tobacco are more likely to require additives to adjust the flavour and harshness of the tobacco taste.

Some cigarette, roll-your-own and pipe tobacco products are labelled ‘organic’ or ‘additive free’. The emissions from these products do, however, contain carcinogens, respiratory poisons and other toxicants present in tobacco products with additives.16

See Section 12.7 for information on menthol as a tobacco additive.


1. Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR). Addictiveness and attractiveness of tobacco additives. Brussels, Belgium 2010. Available from: http://ec.europa.eu/health/scientific_committees/emerging/docs/scenihr_o_031.pdf.

2. New Zealand Ministry of Health. British American Tobacco New Zealand 2012 annual return. Wellington 2013. Available from: https://www.health.govt.nz/system/files/documents/pages/tobacco-returns-2012-british-american-tobacco-nz.pdf.

3. New Zealand Ministry of Health. British American Tobacco New Zealand 2017 annual return. Wellington 2018. Available from: https://www.health.govt.nz/system/files/documents/pages/batnz-cover-letter-return-2017.pdf.

4. Edwards R. Roll your own cigarettes are less natural and at least as harmful as factory rolled tobacco. BMJ, 2014; 348:f7616. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24519762

5. Smiley SL, Kim S, Mourali A, Allem JP, Unger JB, et al. Characterizing #backwoods on instagram: "The number one selling all natural cigar". International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2020; 17(12). Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32630567

6. Kurti MK, Schroth KRJ, and Delnevo C. A discarded cigar package survey in new york city: Indicators of non-compliance with local flavoured tobacco restrictions. Tobacco Control, 2020; 29(5):585-7. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31462577

7. Erythropel HC, Kong G, deWinter TM, O'Malley SS, Jordt SE, et al. Presence of high-intensity sweeteners in popular cigarillos of varying flavor profiles. JAMA, 2018; 320(13):1380-3. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30285168

8. Brown JE, Luo W, Isabelle LM, and Pankow JF. Candy flavorings in tobacco. The New England Journal of Medicine, 2014; 370(23):2250-2. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24805984

9. Kaur G, Muthumalage T, and Rahman I. Mechanisms of toxicity and biomarkers of flavoring and flavor enhancing chemicals in emerging tobacco and non-tobacco products. Toxicology letters, 2018; 288:143-55. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29481849

10. Polzin GM, Stanfill SB, Brown CR, Ashley DL, and Watson CH. Determination of eugenol, anethole, and coumarin in the mainstream cigarette smoke of Indonesian clove cigarettes. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 2007; 45(10):1948-53. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17583404

11. Roemer E, Dempsey R, and Schorp MK. Toxicological assessment of kretek cigarettes: Part 1: Background, assessment approach, and summary of findings. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, 2014; 70 Suppl 1:S2-14. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25498000

12. Malson JL, Sims K, Murty R, and Pickworth WB. Comparison of the nicotine content of tobacco used in bidis and conventional cigarettes. Tobacco Control, 2001; 10(2):181-3. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11387541

13. Philip Morris International. Making cigarettes. What's in a cigarette? : PMI, Available from: https://www.pmi.com/investor-relations/overview/how-cigarettes-are-made.

14. BAT Australia. Ingredients.  Available from: http://www.bata.com.au/productingredients.

15. Talhout R, Opperhuizen A, and van Amsterdam JG. Sugars as tobacco ingredient: Effects on mainstream smoke composition. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 2006; 44(11):1789-98. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16904804

16. Truth Initiative. Are organic or natural cigarettes safer to smoke? Washington, DC, US 2017. Available from: https://truthinitiative.org/research-resources/traditional-tobacco-products/are-organic-or-natural-cigarettes-safer-smoke.