The Effects of Cigarette Toxins – Formaldehyde

Thank you for checking part 4 of our analysis of the toxic ingredients of cigarettes on Formaldehyde. We previously discussed the dangers of Arsenic [click here], and we will focus next time on Cyanide.

Formaldehyde is a simple molecule that is commonly known as an embalming agent, used to preserve post-mortem bodies in preparation for their funerals. According to the US National Toxicology Program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, it is also “known to be a human carcinogen”[1]. Formaldehyde exists in cigarette smoke as a result of the burning tobacco leaves. This makes it extremely dangerous to anyone exposed to second-hand smoke, as well as to the smoker. Specifically, studies agree that formaldehyde can potentially lead to cancer of the upper respiratory system [2].

Similarly to benzene, chemical workers who are exposed to formaldehyde are given a limit to how much they can safely inhale. The US Department of Labor has established the safe limit as being 0.75 parts per million[3]. Studies demonstrate, however, that the concentration of formaldehyde in cigarette smoke can be up to 1,000 times higher than this limit[4]. This implies that formaldehyde may be responsible for the eye and nose irritation associated with smoking, as well as bronchitis and bronchial cancer.

When formaldehyde enters the bloodstream after being inhaled in smoke, the body converts it into formate (formic acid). It is known that formate causes damage to neuron cells, and inhibits their energy production[5,6]. Research indicates that formate is indeed elevated in the urine of smokers, but it is unclear whether or not it exists in high enough concentrations to cause serious damage[7]. Even if only minor damage occurs, however, this implies that formaldehyde could be responsible for the memory impairment and headaches sometimes associated with smoking.

Fortunately, formaldehyde is much easier to remove from the body than many of the other toxins found in cigarettes. The only stipulation is that smoking must be permanently abandoned. Once the body is no longer forced to intake formaldehyde, it can quickly metabolize the chemical into formate. As mentioned above, formate is extremely harmful to the body, and is therefore filtered out as quickly as possible by the kidneys. In this way, excess formate is excreted in the urine, and leaves the body very quickly.

For smokers, installing an air purifier is an effective way of mitigating the formaldehyde found in cigarette smoke. This will also reduce the danger of second-hand inhalation to others who are exposed, and is an important option for anyone who chooses to smoke indoors. Studies indicate that sorption and decomposition filters are effective at removing both formaldehyde and benzene from the air [8]. It is important that the purifier uses a manganese dioxide filter (MnO2) in order to remove these chemicals. Smokers might also remove formaldehyde from their clothingusing an enzyme detergent (e.g. Nature Sunshine’s All Natural Enzyme Spray – Nature’s Fresh). This type of detergent may also be used to clean car interiors and furniture.

If you have any question about this blog and/or the natural remedies described, feel free to leave your question or comment in the section provided below. We love to hear from you.

Our next blog on this subject will focus on cyanide in cigarettes – check back with us soon!

Jeff Riddle and Paul Tsui


[1] National Toxicology Program (10 June 2011). “12th Report on Carcinogens”. National Toxicology Program.

[2] Am J Public Health. 1989 August; 79(8): 1044–1045.

[3] US DOL. OSHA. Toxic and Hazardous Substances. Formaldehyde.

[4] Am J Public Health. 1982 Nov;72(11):1283-5.

[5] Australas Radiol. 1999 Nov;43(4):526-8.

[6] Glia. 2012 Apr;60(4):582-93. doi: 10.1002/glia.22292.

[7] Am Ind Hyg Assoc J. 1987 Nov;48(11):900-8.

[8] Environ Technol. 2011 Dec;33(15-16):1983-1989.


Posted by Paul

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