Facts About Tobacco and Tobacco Products

Most people will immediately think of cigarettes whenever tobacco is mentioned. However, there are many other tobacco products out in the market. But as they are not as commonly seen and publicised, many people are unaware of the dangers associated with these products.

Tobacco plant field

  • Tobacco is made from the fresh leaves of the tobacco plant shown above.

  • Mature tobacco leaves are harvested and then left to dry through curing a process that allows the leaves to dry and age over time.

  • Curing brings about the flavour and smell of the tobacco that users may find attractive.

  • The dried tobacco is made available to the public as various forms of tobacco products. Tobacco is processed and packaged so it can be:

    • smoked, as either roll-your-own tobacco (e.g. cigarettes), or inhaled through water pipes (e.g. popularly known as shisha)

    • consumed orally (e.g. chewing tobacco)

  • Tobacco contains the drug nicotine which makes a smoker or tobacco-user feel high, due to a rapid release of nicotine which stimulates hormones.

  • But the use of tobacco products leads to serious health effects, with direct tobacco use responsible for approximately 7 million deaths a year worldwide and 1.2 million deaths in non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke [1].


Related: Smoking - Casual Habit or Addiction?

Thank You for Not Smoking: Facts About Cigarettes

Woman holding two cigarettes together.

Cigarettes lead to the deaths of about half its users, a staggering number given that there are more than a billion smokers in the world [1]. Cigarettes are simply sticks of tobacco blend wrapped in paper. So what actually makes a cigarette so dangerous to your health?

Cigarettes contain over 7,000 chemicals. Some of the ingredients in cigarettes include toxic substances like [2]:

  • ammonia (component in household cleaners)
  • arsenic (found in rat poison)
  • DDT (used in insecticide)
  • carbon monoxide (found in car exhaust fumes)
  • cadmium (cancer-causing substance, component in car batteries)

Related: Kick Smoking for Good

The Truth About Filters in Low-Yield Cigarettes

Bunch of cigarettes

Some cigarette companies offer brands on the market promoted as safer alternatives to regular cigarettes. These safer alternatives are marketed as low-yield cigarettes (also known as "lights") with enhancements such as filters claimed to trap tar.

However, there is no convincing evidence to prove that switching to low-yield cigarettes can drastically reduce the likelihood of smoking-induced diseases.

  • Mild, light and ultra-light cigarettes have reduced tar and nicotine levels through ventilated filters on the cigarettes.
  • Filter vents allow air to dilute the smoke being passed through, reducing the concentration of tar and nicotine in every puff.
  • But ventilated filters do not reduce the risk and danger of low-yield cigarettes for several reasons:
    • Smokers unconsciously compensate for the lower nicotine levels by blocking the filter vents with their hands or lips.
    • Smokers also inhale more deeply when smoking low-yield cigarettes to get a nicotine high similar to normal-yield cigarettes.
    • Smokers are lulled into a false sense of security as studies have shown that low yield cigarettes have little to no benefits in reducing the risk of smoking related diseases [3,4].
  • The best way for smokers to reduce the health risks caused by smoking is not to switch to light or ultra-light cigarettes, but rather to quit smoking entirely.

Related: Benefits of Quitting

From Cuba With Love: Facts about Cigars

Cuban cigars

Cigars are tightly rolled bundles of fermented tobacco wrapped in tobacco leaves, grown in countries like Cuba, Brazil and Indonesia.

The amount of tobacco in cigars is generally several times more than cigarettes. A large cigar can be up to 7 inches in length. Some premium cigars contain the tobacco equivalent of an entire pack of cigarettes and can take between 1 to 2 hours to smoke [5].  

While many believe that cigars are less harmful since cigar smokers normally do not inhale cigar smoke as it is too acrid, this is a myth. Cigar smokers still risk exposure of their lips, tongue and throat to cigar smoke and cancer-causing chemicals. Individuals who exclusively smoked cigars still have a higher risk of developing tobacco related cancer, compared to never smokers [5,6]. Moreover, cigars are still addictive as nicotine can be absorbed into the body via two routes, through inhalation to the lungs and by absorption through the oral lining [5].

As the majority of the cigar smoke remains in the oral cavity, cigar smokers have increased risk of [5,6]:

  • oral cavity cancer, i.e. cancer of the mouth, lip and tongue
  • oesophageal (throat) cancer – when saliva containing chemicals from tobacco smoke is swallowed, the oesophagus is exposed to these chemicals
  • larynx (voice box) cancer
  • chronic heart and lung diseases

Related: Clearing the Air

Doing It Yourself: Facts About Roll-Your-Own Cigarettes (RYO Cigarettes)

Roll-your-own cigarettes or ryo cigarettes

Smokers may choose to roll their own cigarettes as a cheaper alternative to buying regular cigarettes. Sometimes called ang hoon in Singapore, roll-your-own cigarettes (also known as ryo cigarettes or ryo tobacco) consist of loose dried tobacco hand-rolled by smokers in tiny papers before they are smoked.

Due to the thinner appearance of ang hoon, some smokers perceive it as a safer choice to cigarettes. However, studies have shown otherwise [7,8]:

  • Many of the harmful chemicals, such as carbon monoxide, nicotine and tar, found in cigarettes are also found in the loose tobacco used for roll-your-own cigarettes.
  • Smokers who smoke ang hoon face similar risk of throat and lung cancer, along with other smoking-related diseases, as smokers of regular cigarettes.

Related: Environmental Tobacco Smoke

The Lure of the Exotic: Facts About Shisha (Waterpipe) Smoking

Shisha smoking

A shisha is a waterpipe, inside which flavoured tobacco is partially burned. The smoke passes through water held in the waterpipe before being inhaled by smokers through tubes attached to the pipe.

Shisha is seen as a popular social activity, especially among youths who view this as a harmless recreational activity. Contrary to popular belief, shisha smoking is dangerous, the water in the shisha pipe does NOT absorb harmful substances in the smoke. In fact, even after passing through water, shisha smoke still contains higher levels of carbon monoxide, nicotine and cancer-causing chemicals. This is because the burning of tobacco in a shisha using charcoal produces higher levels of carbon monoxide and cancer-causing chemicals than conventional cigarettes [9]. As such, the import, distribution and sale of shisha tobacco is now prohibited by law in Singapore.

In fact, during a 1-hour shisha session, a smoker will inhale 100 to 200 times the amount of smoke produced by a single cigarette. As people smoking shisha longer and deeper puffs from the waterpipe, users may absorb a greater concentration of harmful substances in a single shisha session compared to smoking a single cigarette.

Related: "Vaping is not smoking", and Other Tobacco Myths

Chew On This: Facts About Oral Smokeless Tobacco in Singapore

Oral smokeless tobacco products are just as harmful and can cause oral cancers.

Oral smokeless tobacco products are products that can be chewed or sucked in the mouth. These include chewing tobacco leaves and powdered tobacco (also known as "snuff"). Chewing tobacco comes in the form of a loose tobacco leaf, while snuff comes in sachets similar to a tea-bag that contains dried or moist forms of finely ground tobacco [10].

Users place the tobacco in the mouth and suck on it, spitting out the tobacco juices produced.

Is Chewing Tobacco Allowed in Singapore?

Chewing tobacco is prohibited by law in Singapore.

What Are the Effects of tobacco Chewing?

Consumption of oral smokeless tobacco is prevalent in the United States, Scandinavia and parts of Asia. Smokeless tobacco is not a safe substitute for cigarette smoking. Oral tobacco is a major form of tobacco addiction and can lead to the following [10]:

  • Cancer of the oral cavity, oesophagus and pancreas due to the presence of at least 28 different cancer-causing substances found in chewing tobacco.
  • Oral health problems, e.g. bad breath, tooth decay, gum disease and formation of precancerous white patches on the soft tissue of the mouth (leukoplakia).
  • Addiction and dependence on nicotine produced by tobacco.
  • Increased likelihood of the user to become cigarette smokers.

Electronic Addiction: Facts About E-Cigarettes and It’s Harmful Side Effects

Holding a traditional cigarette and vaping device

The electronic cigarette, or e-cigarette, is touted as the healthier alternative to cigarettes by its manufacturers. However, WHO has never officially endorsed e-cigarettes.

How Do E-Cigarettes Work?

Electronic-cigarettes (also known as e-cigarettes or vapourisers) consists of a mouthpiece, a heating element, a rechargeable battery and is fitted with a cartridge which contains a liquid chemical mixture. The liquid chemical mixture (also known as e-liquids or vape juices) contains nicotine (a highly addictive substance found in other tobacco products), propylene glycol (a food additive but known irritant when inhaled) and many other harmful chemicals also found in conventional cigarettes. An e-cigarette also has a LED light at the end of the device which lights up to signal the process of combustion as the smoker inhales. The heating element powered by the battery vaporises the liquid chemical mixture, generating a nicotine-containing fine mist which is then inhaled.

Are E-cigarettes Harmful?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared that e-cigarettes are undoubtedly harmful to health and that they are not safer alternatives to regular cigarettes [11]. As e-cigarettes are relatively new products, many long-term health effects of vaping are still unknown, studies have shown that vaping is associated with increased risk of developing heart and lung diseases in the short term, such as myocardial infarction, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) [11].

Vapourisers expose the user to a combination of harmful chemical substances like fine particulate matter (PM), cancer causing agents such as carbonyls and volatile organic compounds. Commonly found substances include cancer-causing compounds like formaldehyde and benzene. Formaldehyde is known to cause infertility as well. Toxic metal nanoparticles like tin, lead and nickel are also derived from the e-cigarette, heating element or vapouriser device itself [11].

The main function of e-cigarettes is primarily to dispense nicotine - a highly addictive substance that keeps users dependent and eventually become long-term vapers. In youths, nicotine exposure negatively affects the developing brain's ability to control attention and learning, lowers youths' impulse control permanently and can lead to mood disorders. Impulse control issues refer to the failure to resist urges. Common examples include sudden physical or verbal outbursts, internet addiction, compulsive eating etc [12]. 

Are Electronic Cigarettes Allowed in Singapore?

Vaping is illegal in Singapore. It is an offence under the Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) Act (TCASA) to use, purchase, possess, sell, import or distribute imitation tobacco products. This includes e-cigarettes and anything else that resembles a smoking device.

Singapore is not the only country that has banned vaping, around 37 countries have banned the sales or distribution of e-cigarettes, with more countries either heavily regulating or considering a ban, as the harms of vaping become increasingly known [13]. 

Tobacco and Alternative Tobacco Products Are Not Safe

Consumption of tobacco, in any form, poses a health risk. There are no safer alternatives to cigarettes when it comes to tobacco products. The best way to keep you safe from the harmful effects of tobacco is to stay away entirely. You do not need tobacco products to feel good or to pass the time. Abstaining from tobacco will allow you to lead a healthier, happier life.

Resources for Quitting

Join the I Quit Programme and remain smoke free for 28 days and you are 5 times more likely to quit smoking. You can nominate your loved ones as a supporter when you sign up for the programme. Validate your smoke-free status and redeem a HPB eVoucher* worth $50 at the 28th day milestone. Keep going and you'll also receive eVouchers* worth $30 and $20 at the 3rd month and 6th month milestone respectively!

*Terms and conditions apply.

Download the HealthHub app on Google Play or Apple Store to access more health and wellness advice at your fingertips.


  1. WHO, "Tobacco Key Facts", 2021. Geneva: World Health Organization, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/tobacco. Accessed 1 Feb 2022.
  2. American Lung Association, "What's in a Cigarette?", 2020, https://www.lung.org/quit-smoking/smoking-facts/whats-in-a-cigarette. Accessed 1 Feb 2022.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/tobacco_industry/low_yield_cigarettes/index.htm. Accessed 1 Feb 2022.
  4. National Cancer Institute, Monograph 13: Risks Associated with Smoking Cigarettes with Low Machine-measured Yields of Tar and Nicotine, 2001, https://cancercontrol.cancer.gov/sites/default/files/2020-08/m13_complete.pdf. Accessed 1 Feb 2022.
  5. National Cancer Institute, "Cigar Smoking and Cancer", 2010, https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/tobacco/cigars-fact-sheet. Accessed 1 Feb 2022.
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/tobacco_industry/cigars/. Accessed 1 Feb 2022
  7. Shahab L et al, A comparison of exposure to carcinogens among roll-your-own and factory-made cigarette smokers. Addiction Biology, 2009; 14(3):315-20. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19523045. Accessed on 1 Feb 2022.
  8. Koszowski B et al. Make your own cigarettes: toxicant exposure, smoking topography, and subjective effects. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention 2014;23(9):1793-803. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4154992/. Accessed on 1 Feb 2022.
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/tobacco_industry/hookahs/ Accessed 1 Feb 2022.
  10. National Cancer Institute, Smokeless Tobacco and Public Health: A Global Perspective, 2020, https://cancercontrol.cancer.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/chapter_1_smokelesstobaccoandpublichealth.pdf. Accessed 1 Feb 2022.
  11. WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, Addressing new and emerging products, 2021. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2021. WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, Addressing new and emerging products. World Health Organization, Geneva, 2021, https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240032095. Accessed 1 Feb 2022.
  12. England et al. "Developmental toxicity of nicotine: a transdisciplinary synthesis and implications for emerging tobacco products". Neuroscience Biobehavioral Reviews, no. 72, 2017, p.172-189. DOI: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2016.11.013. Accessed 1 Feb 2022.
  13. Global Center for Good Governance in Tobacco Control. E-cigarette ban and regulation: global status as of Feb 2021. Published on 28 May 2021. Last accessed on 1 Feb 2022.

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