FRIDAY, Aug. 3, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- More than 100 of 599 additives that might be in cigarettes are potentially harmful, with some making cigarettes even more addictive and others making it difficult for people to detect tobacco smoke in their midst, a new study contends.
Trade secrecy about the ingredients in cigarettes makes it impossible to know how many of the additives that appear on a 1994 list are actually in tobacco products today. Still, there's plenty of reason to be alarmed, said study lead author Dr. Michael Rabinoff, an assistant research psychiatrist at the University of California, Los Angeles.
"They're making people less aware of tobacco [smoke] and making the cigarette more addictive," he said. "There is so much going on with these additives that it's an uncontrolled experiment on billions of people around the planet."
Contrary to what smokers might assume, cigarettes aren't simply tobacco rolled up in pieces of paper. "They're highly engineered by the industry to smoke in certain ways and taste in certain ways," said James Pankow, a professor at Oregon Health & Science University who studies cigarette smoke and tobacco additives.
Some additives may seem harmless, such as sugar. But even that can become harmful when combusted to form other compounds, he said.
The study was released online this week and will appear in the September issue of the American Journal of Public Health. It is being released as Congress considers whether to allow the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco products. On Wednesday, a Senate committee approved a bill granting such oversight.
In the study, Rabinoff and his colleagues examined a 1994 list of cigarette additives that they said the tobacco industry acknowledged using. It's not clear how many of the additives are still being used, or how common they are. According to the researchers, the tobacco companies are required to provide a confidential list of additives to the federal government each year.
The study authors found that more than 100 of the additives "camouflage environmental [second-hand] tobacco smoke emitted from cigarettes, enhance or maintain nicotine delivery, could increase the addictiveness of cigarettes, and mask symptoms and illnesses associated with smoking behaviors."
The potentially harmful additives include chocolate and cocoa, which have chemicals that can make it easier for cigarette smoke to penetrate the lungs. Other additives appear to have an anesthetizing effect that makes it easier for smokers to avoid coughing, the researchers said.
"We don't know exactly the intent of all these agents," Rabinoff said, although internal tobacco industry documents reveal some information. He added that it's a challenge to figure out what tobacco companies are up to and "reverse-engineer their thought process."
In a statement provided to HealthDay, leading tobacco company Philip Morris declined to comment on the study because it said it had not finished reviewing it. But the company did say it discloses the ingredients of its cigarettes to the federal government and "it is our scientific judgment, based on the best data available, that the ingredients used in our cigarettes do not increase the inherent hazards of smoking."
Instead, the statement said, "the ingredients complement the subjective characteristics of the different tobacco types and provide the distinctive flavors, tastes, and aromas associated with our brands. We also use ingredients as processing aids and as humectants to keep the tobacco pliant. The flavor ingredients we use, and the precise way in which we use them, help distinguish our products from those of our competitors. The distinctive taste of our products is an extremely important and valuable part of our competitive strategy."
Philip Morris said it supports legislation that would give the federal government the authority to regulate cigarettes, although it thinks additives shouldn't be banned because they make a cigarette "taste better."
Rabinoff is author of a new book called Ending The Tobacco Holocaust: How Big Tobacco Affects Our Health, Pocketbook And Political Freedom, and What We Can Do About It.
Pankow, the Oregon professor, said the new study is "a bunch of information that's been out there, but they've put it all in one place."
As for the public, people aren't "aware of any given additive being used," he said.
For help on quitting smoking, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.