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Vinyl Chloride In Cigarettes

Vinyl chloride is one of the many harmful chemicals found in cigarette smoke. Sometimes known as chloroethene, vinyl chloride is a colourless, flammable gas.
Vinyl chloride does not occur naturally, instead it is a man made substance that is used in manufacturing to produce the polymer polyvinyl chloride, or PVC. PVC is one of the most common synthetic plastics in the world and is used to make pipes, doors, windows and non-food packaging.
A number of health risks have been linked to vinyl chloride exposure, including liver and bone damage. Vinyl chloride has also been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a Group 1 carcinogen. This means that exposure to vinyl chloride has been proven to cause cancer in humans.
Vinyl chloride is used in the manufacture of cigarette filters. Studies have shown that low levels of vinyl chloride are present in both firsthand and secondhand cigarette smoke.

Vinyl Chloride Exposure

Vinyl chloride in cigarette smoke is just one of the ways that we are exposed to vinyl chloride in our day to day lives. Inhalation is the most common way that vinyl chloride enters the body, so breathing contaminated air is the main source of this toxic chemical. Vinyl chloride can also be ingested from contaminated water sources, but this is far less common than inhalation.
There are generally very low levels of vinyl chloride in the air around us, but these levels can rise dramatically in certain locations. Factories where plastics are produced are one of the biggest sources along with landfill sites where hazardous waste from plastic production is disposed of.
As you’ve probably already guessed, cigarettes are the most obvious way that we’re exposed to vinyl chloride, unless you work in a plastics factory or live near an industrial waste landfill.

Vinyl Chloride in Cigarettes

The vinyl chloride found in cigarette smoke is actually at low levels, less than thirty nanograms per cigarette. The vinyl chloride is used to make cigarette filters and as smoke passes through the filter it picks up small amounts of vinyl chloride.
But the health risks associated with vinyl chloride are still a problem even at low levels. Research has shown that long term exposure to low levels of vinyl chloride increases the risk of developing cancer as well as organ damage.

Cancer And Other Risks

There are a number of different factors that affect how dangerous exposure to vinyl chloride can be to our health. Some of these are obvious, like the level of vinyl chloride we’re exposed to and the duration of the exposure, but some might be less obvious.
Vinyl chloride is a gas at room temperatures and inhalation is both the most common form of exposure and the most dangerous. The amount of vinyl chloride found in water and food is at extremely low levels and this harmful chemical is absorbed rapidly into the body through the lungs. Vinyl chloride can also be absorbed through the skin.
Like other toxic chemicals, the age and health of the person exposed as well as what other chemicals they’re exposed to are also factors in how quickly it can cause health problems. Younger and healthier bodies will be able to get rid of vinyl chloride faster and will be damaged less quickly, but this damage can still build up over time. Smoking increases the risk of health problems because cigarette smoke contains a large number of harmful chemicals that the body has to deal with.
After being absorbed into the bloodstream through the lungs, vinyl chloride is carried to different organs around the body. The liver and kidneys end up with the highest concentrations, followed by the lungs and spleen.
Vinyl chloride is mostly processed by the liver and removed from the body in urine. When processing vinyl chloride, the liver produces a variety of substances which linger, reacting with other chemicals in our bodies and causing further health problems.

Low levels of exposure to vinyl chloride can cause flu like symptoms including, headaches, dizziness, nausea and drowsiness. Over time exposure can also damage the central nervous system and lead to depression and cardiac arrhythmia.
Exposure to vinyl chloride in cigarette smoke can also cause irritation to the eyes, throat and lungs. And studies of the effect of vinyl chloride on animals have shown that long term exposure can reduce sperm count and mobility.

Health Problems

Exposure to higher levels of vinyl chloride as well as long term exposure to this toxic chemical can cause organ damage, neurological problems and cancer.
Research has shown that high levels of vinyl chloride in the body can damage the liver, lungs and kidneys as well as weakening the heart and inhibiting blood clotting. In industrial environments where exposure to vinyl chloride is at its highest, workers have developed nerve damage as well as neurological disorders.


Vinyl chloride has been classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. This means that there is sufficient evidence to prove that exposure to vinyl chloride can cause cancer in humans.
There are a number of cancers associated with vinyl chloride exposure including, liver, brain and lung cancer as well as lymphoma and leukaemia. Long term exposure has also been linked with cancers of the blood a well as rare forms of liver cancer.

What It All Comes Down To

While it may only be present at low levels, vinyl chloride can cause serious health problems over time, including cancer, organ damage and even death. Reducing our exposure to this toxic chemical helps reduce our risk of developing health problems.
Vinyl chloride is just one of a huge number of harmful chemicals found in cigarette smoke. On their own these chemicals can all cause damage to our bodies and together they are more dangerous as our bodies can only process so much toxic chemical at a time. Quitting smoking is a great way to reduce our exposure to vinyl chloride as well as these other dangerous chemicals.

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