Are clove cigarettes as bad as regular cigarettes?

Originally Published: January 10, 2003 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: November 5, 2007
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Alice,

I love clove cigarettes, but I don't want to get addicted or cancer. Are cloves bad for you like regular cigarettes are?

puffy

Dear puffy,

Contrary to popular belief, clove cigarettes, also called kreteks, contain tobacco — they are made up of 60-70 percent tobacco and 30-40 percent shredded cloves (a spice). Considering their tobacco content, clove cigarettes are probably as harmful and dangerous as regular cigarettes. As a matter of fact, kreteks may hold even more risk than ordinary smokes. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), clove cigarettes produce at least twice as much nicotine, tar, and carbon monoxide as regular American cigarettes brands.

Plus, there may be an additional risk due to their clove content. The major active ingredient in cloves is eugenol, which is a topical anesthetic used in dentistry. The short- and long-term health effects of eugenol are not well known, and little inhalation toxicology research has been done on this substance. However, when smoked, eugenol numbs the throat and impairs the gag reflex. This anesthetizing effect could cause some problems; for example, liquids and/or food could more easily go down the wrong pipe. Smokers may not feel the harshness of the smoke as strongly, so they are more likely to inhale the smoke more deeply and hold it in the lungs for a longer period of time before exhaling. As a result, it's possible, or even likely, that eugenol has the potential to facilitate lung infections, respiratory illnesses, or allergic reactions in certain users, especially in smokers with existing breathing problems and/or other sensitivities.

Although clove cigarette smokers share some adverse health symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, allergic reactions, bronchitis, pneumonia, and coughing up blood, the cause-and-effect relationship between smoking clove cigarettes and these symptoms has not yet been definitively established. Regardless, it seems reasonable to assume that clove cigarettes are as harmful and dangerous or even more so than standard cigarettes.

Clove cigarettes are one of several kinds of alternative smokes. Others include bidis (tiny, inexpensive, flavored dark tobacco containing cigarettes hand rolled with a dried tendu leaf), herbal or vegetable-based cigarettes with no tobacco and nicotine, and additive-free, natural tobacco cigarettes. Often, alternative cigarette smokers are part of the under 30 crowd. People smoke the "alternatives" because they think that they are cool and/or safer, healthier, and more natural to smoke than standard smokes. Cool or not, smoking alternative cigarettes can be as harmful and even dangerous to one's health as regular ones.

Given the health risks of smoking, many smokers wish to quit at some point. There are programs to support clove smokers, and any tobacco users, who are interested in quitting. Students at Columbia can make an appointment with the Tobacco Cessation Program and receive support and resources. New York City residents can call 311 and New York State residents can call the state quit line to receive free nicotine gum or patches to assist in the quitting process. Elsewhere in the United States, take a look at the government site Healthfinder to locate resources near you.

In health,

Alice

July 10, 2012

513582
This is just under 5 years late, but I would like to reply to the comment about the vaporizer. You have to remember that the vaporizer vaporizes all compounds that have a "vaporization" point that is...
This is just under 5 years late, but I would like to reply to the comment about the vaporizer. You have to remember that the vaporizer vaporizes all compounds that have a "vaporization" point that is lower than that of THC / Tobacco / etc. Many carcinogenic compounds will still be vaporized and inhaled if you use a vaporizer!

August 3, 2007

21238

Modern tests have shown clove cigarettes to be just as unhealthy or dangerous as regular cigarettes. Rats exposed to kretek smoke systematically over a 14 day period showed the exact same signs as...

Modern tests have shown clove cigarettes to be just as unhealthy or dangerous as regular cigarettes. Rats exposed to kretek smoke systematically over a 14 day period showed the exact same signs as those exposed to Marlboro smoke. Cloves only will cause vomiting because they may slow the gag reflex by numbing the throat. On the cancer part, you need to remember one thing.

Anything involving smoke entering your body can or will give you cancer if repeated. It isn't tobacco that will cause cancer, it is the fact that you are inhaling smoke of any kind. The same goes for cloves, or even marijuana. If you are that concerned about cancer, look into vaporizers. A vaporizer creates a steam of a plant's essential oils that can be inhaled safely. All in all, do not believe everything the government tells you and peek around at other people's info. :)