12 cancer-causing substances found in cigarettes

By Lee Kyung-min

The drug ministry said Tuesday that it has found 12 cancer-causing substances classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) in cigarettes.

The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) said it found nine harmful substances including some of the 12 carcinogens such as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde are not currently printed on the cigarette pack label.

It tested 2,000 packs of cigarettes sold nationwide between 2015 and 2016, the first government-commissioned study here. The ministry applied the harmful substance analysis method it developed in 2014.

The two-year study followed the recommendation by the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which took effect in 2005. The treaty requires 180 countries to disclose harmful ingredients and regulate the content and emissions of tobacco products.

Of the 12 substances, seven were carcinogenic (group 1) and five were possibly carcinogenic (group 2B), classified under the FCTC.

Seven group 1 substances found include formaldehyde, benzene, benzo(a)pyrene, 4-aminobiphenyl, 1-amino naphthalene, 2-amino naphthalene and 1,3-butadiene. Other harmful but non-carcinogenic substances found in the cigarettes include nicotine, tar, carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide.

Formaldehyde, a colorless, flammable, strong-smelling chemical, is used in building materials including pressed-wood products, glues and adhesives.

Also commonly used as an industrial fungicide, germicide, and disinfectant, exposure to it can cause watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes, nose and throat, coughing, nausea and skin irritation.

Widely used chemicals to make plastics, lubricants, detergents and pesticides, benzene, if breathed in high doses, can affect the nervous system, which can lead to drowsiness, dizziness, headaches, tremors, confusion and unconsciousness.

In worse cases, it can cause vomiting, stomach irritation, dizziness, sleepiness, convulsions, and rapid heart rate. In extreme cases, inhaling or swallowing very high levels of benzene can be deadly.

A separate study by the ministry showed electronic cigarettes sold here contained group 1 carcinogens including formaldehyde and acetaldehyde. Other harmful substances included nicotine and acetone.

The ministry said electronic cigarettes were less harmful than cigarettes in general. However, the study found when they were heated, the level of formaldehyde and acetaldehyde in the smoke produced increased up to 19 times than in liquid form.

The ministry is conducting a separate study of 45 harmful substances contained in cigarettes on their harmful effects on human health. The report will be released later this year. As of last year, the smoking rate is 39.3 percent among men and 5.5 percent among women.

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