The more the government knows about what's in cigarettes, besides tobacco, the better it can assess their potential harm. In a progressive move to gain more information about tobacco product formulas, the Food and Drug Administration is requiring tobacco companies to tell the agency exactly what goes into their products by June.
Companies have long acknowledged using cocoa, coffee, menthol and other additives to make tobacco taste better. But the FDA also wants to determine what ingredients used might also make tobacco more harmful or addictive.
Some tobacco companies, like Altria Group, parent company of the nation's largest tobacco maker, Philip Morris, have already been voluntarily posting their general ingredients online. But, says Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, those companies will have to be a lot more specific in what they supply the government.
While the FDA will have to keep much of the data confidential because of trade-secret laws, it will publish a list of harmful or potentially harmful ingredients by June 2011. By law, those must be listed by quantity in each brand.
Cigarette makers confirm that in addition to tobacco, water, sugar and flavorings, they also include chemicals in their product like diammonium phosphate, a substance added to improve burn rate and taste, and ammonium hydroxide, also used to improve taste.
Scientific studies suggest those chemicals help the body absorb nicotine more easily, which is the active and addictive component of tobacco. But there are more than 4,000 chemicals in cigarettes and their smoke.
More than 60 of them are known carcinogens, according to the American Cancer Society. Who knows what scientists will learn with the new information submitted, but collecting the data is an important start.