Health & Medical Mental Health

What Do Cigarette Filters Do?


    • The first cigarette filter was produced in 1927 after being developed by Hungarian inventor Boris Aivaz. Early cigarette filters were intended more to prevent cigarette users from burning their fingers than to filter chemicals from smoke. It wasn't until 1954, following the release of the first research linking poor health and cigarette use, that cigarettes with manufactured filters became widely available. Filtered cigarettes, marketed by cigarette companies as a safer alternative to non-filtered cigarettes, would take over the market. Some cigarette filters in the 1950s were made of materials such as asbestos and charcoal.

    Components of a Cigarette Filter

    • Modern cigarette filters are made from a synthetic fiber derived from wood cellulose. This synthetic material is known as cellulose acetate. The cellulose acetate is treated with chemicals to create spools of a fiber known as "tow." The tow is then treated with additional additives to make it more cotton-like before being cut to size. Filters are incorporated into the tobacco and cigarette by machine, which coats the filter with an adhesive so that it remains intact with the rest of the product.

    Degradation Controversy

    • Cellulose acetate cigarette filters have been criticized by environmental groups and anti-smoking advocates because of their slow rate of degradation in landfills and in the environment. Although some cigarette companies have estimated that cigarette filters take approximately 10 months to three years to degrade, other studies have put this number at 10 to 15 years.

    Effectiveness of Filters

    • Government regulation of cigarettes and their subsequent division into "light" and "low-tar" brands are based on tests of cigarette smoke that has passed through a cellulose acetate filter. Cigarette filters for "light" cigarettes are perforated with tiny holes, which result in lower test readings of tar and other chemicals, because the testing machine clips the product at the very tip. However, these perforated holes are blocked by the lips or fingers of the human smoker, which essentially eliminates their usefulness.

    Other Types of Filters

    • There are a variety of "add-on" cigarette filters available on the market. These are used in conjunction with manufacturer's filters to further reduce the harmful effects of tobacco smoke inhalation. Some are designed to reduce the amount of nicotine delivered by the cigarette and are manufactured for use by individuals aiming to quit smoking. Some external cigarette filters are disposable, while others are designed for repeat usage.

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