The Active Ingredient In Smoke Is Smoke

H/T NYC CLASH, I’m occasionally reminded of Lauren Colby’s In Defense of Smokers. It was probably one of the first things I read online in favour of smoking. His was a voice of sanity.

I quite often quote the last sentence in the following passage, because I think it’s true:

It is not universally accepted, however, that nicotine is the active ingredient in tobacco smoke. The authors of the widely respected “Merck Manual” say only that it is “probably” the active ingredient. If, in fact, the anti-smokers finally succeed in getting the tobacco companies to remove the nicotine from cigarettes, we will finally find out the truth. My own bet is that a cigarette without nicotine will probably be almost as satisfying as one with nicotine. The active ingredient in smoke is smoke.

Lauren Colby died in 2012, aged 81. His website has now gone too. But it lives on in And is still worth reading.

About Frank Davis

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36 Responses to The Active Ingredient In Smoke Is Smoke

  1. The Blocked Dwarf says:

    My own bet is that a cigarette without nicotine will probably be almost as satisfying as one with nicotine

    Back in the dark distant past when I still had hair down to my arse, or had hair at all, and could drink my own body weight in London Tea (half Gin and enough tannin to creosote a shed) some kind soul gave me a carton of something called “Silk CUT Ultra Light with wings” or something like that. Apparently at the time they were only available in Oildollarstan. I recall the packet said “0.1mg Tar/0.1mg” Nicotine. Bear in mind at the time my tipple of choice was Gauloises filterless or, when broke, Old Horrible. So the first couple of packs of the Silk CUT tasted of nothing but fresh air and I could only get a hit by tearing off the filter. But the next morning I went outside the Squat I was living in to enjoy an early morning smoke in the sunshine and I found that the Silk Cut ‘Fresh Air’ brand suddenly seemed no different to a ‘normal’ cigarette. Perfectly satisfying. I assumed I was just drawing the smoke deeper into my lungs to the ‘hit’ I needed but thinking about it, in light of your post, I don’t recall dragging the smoke down 10 times deeper than my usual 1.1mg Nicotine smokes…

    So you may well be right. That might be the reason that so many smokers find e-cigs so satisfying, the warm smoke that just tastes ‘right’ (unlike a herbal fag) is where it is at, not the ‘tine?

    • margo says:

      I remember those ultra-light Silkies, too. Too mild by half for me. And what are you talking out with the e-cigs? They are nothing like smoking – that’s what’s wrong with them – just not satisfying – all that can be said is they are better than nothing, which is roughly what I used to think about ultra-light Silk cuts.

    • Frank Davis says:

      Just up the page from the quote I gave is another:

      When I was a young man, there was a chain of tobacco stores which sold cheap cigars. They were made almost entirely from brown paper, with only one outside wrapper made from tobacco. I doubt they contained any significant amount of nicotine. Yet, they were a satisfying smoke.

      So as a young man he had enjoyed smoking paper, basically! Perhaps tobaccco is almost irrelevant? Or just adds a pleasant flavour?

      I occasionally wonder something like this:

      Humans have always been surrounded by smoke. They lit fires to cook food, and to keep warm, and to fire clay pots, and smelt metal ores. Fire has a thousand uses. But all these forms of smoke have largely been removed from everyday life. We cook and heat our homes with smokeless gas or electricity. Industrial pollution has been minimised. But I wonder whether, after all those smoky millennia, humans still have a need for that pall of smoke that cooks and warms and purifies, and which signifies the presence of human life. Smoke-free is humanity-free. Perhaps smoking is a way of compensating for the absence of a familiar, ancestral, enveloping mantle of smoke. In the absence of the former sources of smoke, the smoker recreates the primeval smoky environment in a way that would never have been done by our ancestors, because they had more than enough smoke. So the compensatory rise in smoking tobacco (or anything else) has accompanied the decline of environmental smoke from all sources.

      • Tony says:

        Yes. Our ancestors were managing fires over a million years ago. Modern humans first appeared around 15,000 years ago, so we evolved in a smoky atmosphere.

        • Tony says:

          Oops – should have read 150,000 years ago.

        • Tony says:

          I’ll go further than that too, by pointing out that, with the exception of humans, all animals fear and avoid fire and smoke. With good evolutionary reason. Anti-smokers, or at least some of them, appear to have lost the human ability to override this basic animal instinct and so have literally reverted to a bestial state.

        • Frank Davis says:

          reverted to a bestial state.

          That seems about right. There’s something inhuman about them.

    • beobrigitte says:

      My own bet is that a cigarette without nicotine will probably be almost as satisfying as one with nicotine
      Back in the 70s I had a spell where I smoked something like Silk Cut. (Forgot the name)
      As it produced the for me satisfying smoke it made no difference to me.
      The same I found with a cherry flavoured e-cig. I really enjoyed it and was baffled that it was a nicotine-free e-cig.
      For me it’s the amount of smoke/vape produced. The only problem I have with e-cigs is that they don’t produce the curls of smoke a lit cigarette produces…. Nevertheless, I have managed for a long time not to buy tobacco in this country. Too much tax which is used to persecute me is levied onto it.

    • slugbop007 says:

      How about the Silk Cut Jaguars at LeMans?

  2. devinna says:

    Personally,I’m not sure that many people would like,or even enjoy real cigarette without some small level of nicotine.Some smokers can make do with a low level of nicotine,where as some require a higher level,and that is where Vaping has it all over smoking as that level can be easily adjusted.Though of course the immediate effect of Ecigs is the automatic removal of the tar,along with all its carcinogenic materials.Plus most Vapers actually enjoy vaping,getting to know fellow Vapers and exchanging ideas.Whatever people say about Vaping,I can tell you one simple truth,and that Vaping is here to Stay!

    • The Blocked Dwarf says:

      where as some require a higher level

      that was pretty much my point, normally I require the sort of nicotine levels that only come from smoking papirosi (although i never liked them) after 24 hours of a brand with microscopic amounts only and i could tell no difference in the ‘hit’.

    • roobeedoo2 says:

      Vaping isn’t smoking, so what’s your point?

      • harleyrider1978 says:

        vaping is smoking your heating a chemical bath right! it releases airborne stuff right. Same as smoke just more dilute.

        • prog says:

          Hardly…besides no sidestream (a real downside with plastic cigs), which I think we’ve been informed can kill an innocent bystander far quicker than direct emissions.

        • harleyrider1978 says:

          side stream smoke within seconds transforms into nothing………..same as the vapor.

        • harleyrider1978 says:

          EPA & FDA: Vapor Harmless to Children

          April 3, 2014 matt black

          In the continued war on e-cigarettes, we hear about the “potential dangers” of e-cigarette vapor and the “unknown public health risks.”

          First, I find it absolutely absurd that we’re attempting to pass laws based on unknowns, but what makes it even more absurd is the fact that there’s very little that isn’t known about e-cigarette vapor at this point. The primary ingredient of concern to those who wish to see e-cigarettes banned is the propylene glycol vapor, which has been studied for over 70 years.

          I recently came across a document titled, “Reregistration Eligibility Decision For Propylene Glycol and Dipropylene Glycol“, which was created by the United State Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

          Catchy title. I was intrigued.

          This quote caught my eye:

          Propylene glycol and dipropylene glycol were first registered in 1950 and 1959, respectively, by the FDA for use in hospitals as air disinfectants. (page 4, paragraph 1).

          In a previous post, I had shared the summary of research that had been done in 1942 by Dr. Robertson regarding the antibacterial properties of vaporized propylene glycol, but I had never heard that the FDA wound up approving it for the purpose of an air disinfectant in hospitals.

          Indoor Non-Food: Propylene glycol is used on the following use sites: air treatment (eating establishments, hospital, commercial, institutional, household, bathroom, transportational facilities); medical premises and equipment, commercial, institutional and industrial premises and equipment; (page 6, paragraph 2)


          Method and Rates of Application


          Air Sanitizer

          Read the directions included with the automatic dispenser for proper installation of unit and refill. Remove cap from aerosol can and place in a sequential aerosol dispenser which automatically releases a metered amount every 15 minutes. One unit should treat 6000 ft of closed air space… For regular, non-metered applications, spray room until a light fog forms. To sanitize the air, spray 6 to 8 seconds in an average size room (10’x10′). (page 6, paragraph 6)

          A common argument used to support the public usage ban is that, “Minnesotans have become accustomed to the standard of clean indoor air.” However, according to the EPA and FDA, so long as there’s a “light fog” of propylene glycol vapor in the air, the air is actually more clean than the standard that Minnesotans have become accustomed to.

          General Toxicity Observations

          Upon reviewing the available toxicity information, the Agency has concluded that there are no endpoints of concern for oral, dermal, or inhalation exposure to propylene glycol and dipropylene glycol. This conclusion is based on the results of toxicity testing of propylene glycol and dipropylene glycol in which dose levels near or above testing limits (as established in the OPPTS 870 series harmonized test guidelines) were employed in experimental animal studies and no significant toxicity observed.

          Carcinogenicity Classification

          A review of the available data has shown propylene glycol and dipropylene glycol to be negative for carcinogenicity in studies conducted up to the testing limit doses established by the Agency; therefore, no further carcinogenic analysis is required. (page 10, paragraphs 1 & 2)

          Ready for the bombshell? I probably should have put this at the top, as it could have made this post a lot shorter, but I figured the information above was important, too…

          2. FQPA Safety Factor

          The FQPA Safety Factor (as required by the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996) is intended to provide an additional 10-fold safety factor (10X), to protect for special sensitivity in infants and children to specific pesticide residues in food, drinking water, or residential exposures, or to compensate for an incomplete database. The FQPA Safety Factor has been removed (i.e., reduced to 1X) for propylene glycol and dipropylene glycol because there is no pre- or post-natal evidence for increased susceptibility following exposure. Further, the Agency has concluded that there are no endpoints of concern for oral, dermal, or inhalation exposure to propylene glycol and dipropylene glycol based on the low toxicity observed in studies conducted near or above testing limit doses as established in the OPPTS 870 series harmonized test guidelines. Therefore, quantitative risk assessment was not conducted for propylene glycol and dipropylene glycol.

          In a paper published in the American Journal of Public Health by Dr. Robertson in April of 1946, Robertson cites a study published in the Edinburgh Medical Journal, which was conducted in 1944:

          The report of the 3 years’ study of the clinical application of the disinfection of air by glycol vapors in a children’s convalescent home showed a marked reduction in the number of acute respiratory infections occurring in the wards treated with both propylene and triethylene glycols. Whereas in the control wards, 132 infections occured during the course of three winters, there were only 13 such instances in the glycol wards during the same period. The fact that children were, for the most part, chronically confined to bed presented an unusually favorable condition for the prophylactic action of the glycol vapor.

          An investigation of the effect of triethylene glycol vapor on the respiratory disease incidence in military barracks brought out the fact that, while for the first 3 weeks after new personnel entered the glycolized area the disease rate remained the same as in the control barracks, the second 3 week period showed a 65 percent reduction in acute respiratory infections in the glycol treated barracks. Similar effects were observed in respect to airborne hemolytic streptococci and throat carriers of this microorganism.

          I don’t expect the prohibitionist lawmakers to delve this deeply into this subject on their own, but I certainly hope that when presented with this data that they reevaluate their stance on the subject and consider what science has to say. If they don’t, they’re simply basing their judgement off of rhetoric, misinformation, and personal bias and we all know where that gets us.

        • harleyrider1978 says:

          Medicinal Smoke Reduces Airborne Bacteria – 2007

          “This study represents a comprehensive analysis and scientific validation of our ancient knowledge about the effect of ethnopharmacological aspects of natural products’ smoke for therapy and health care on airborne bacterial composition and dynamics, using the Biolog® microplate panelsand Microlog® database.

          In this study, we have designed an air sampler for microbiological air sampling during the treatment of the room with medicinal smoke. In addition, elimination of the aerial pathogenic bacteria due to the smoke is reported too.

          We have observed that 1 h treatment of medicinal smoke emination by burning wood and a mixture of odoriferous and medicinal herbs (havan sámagri = material used in oblation to fire all over India) on aerial bacterial population caused over 94% reduction of bacterial counts by 60 min and the ability of the smoke to purify or disinfect the air and to make the environment cleaner was maintained up to 24 h in the closed room.

          Absence of pathogenic bacteria Corynebacterium urealyticum, Curtobacterium flaccumfaciens, Enterobacter aerogenes (Klebsiella mobilis), Kocuria rosea, Pseudomonassyringae pv. persicae, Staphylococcus lentus, and Xanthomonas campestris pv. tardicrescens inthe open room even after 30 days is indicative of the bactericidal potential of the medicinal smoke treatment.

          We have demonstrated that using medicinal smoke it is possible to completely eliminate diverse plant and human pathogenic bacteria of the air within confined space.
          Work has implications to use the smoke generated by burning wood and a mixture of odoriferousand medicinal herbs, within confined spaces such as animal barns and seed/grain warehouses to disinfect the air and to make the environment cleaner.
          Work indicates that certain known medicinal constituents from the havan sámagri can thus be added to the burning farm material while disposing unwanted agriculture organic material, in order to reduce plant pathogenicorganisms.

          In particular, it highlights the fact that we must think well beyond the physical aspects of smoke on plants in natural habitats and impacts heavily on our understanding of fire as adriving force in evolution.
          We have demonstrated that using medicinal smoke it is possible to contain diverse pathogenic bacteria of the air we breathe.

          The work also highlights the fact about medicinal smoke and that a lot of natural products have potential for use as medicine in the smoke form as a form of drug delivery and as a promising source of new active natural ingredients for containing indoor airborne infections within confined spaces used for storage of agriculture comodities.

          The dynamic chemical and biological interactions occurring in the atmosphere are much more complex than has been previously realized. The findings warrant a need for further evaluation of various ingredients present in the complex mixture of odoriferous and medicinal herbs, individually and in various combinations to identify the active principlesinvolved in the bactericidal property of the medicinal smoke, applied in the above discussed fashion.”
          Formerly http: //…


          Medicinal smokes

          “All through time, humans have used smoke of medicinal plants to cure illness.
          To the best of our knowledge, the ethnopharmacological aspects of natural products’ smoke for therapy and health care have not been studied.
          Mono- and multi-ingredient herbal and non-herbal remedies administered as smoke from 50 countries across the 5 continents are reviewed.

          Most of the 265 plant species of mono-ingredient remedies studied belong to Asteraceae (10.6%), followed by Solanaceae (10.2%), Fabaceae (9.8%) and Apiaceae (5.3%). The most frequent medical indications for medicinal smoke are pulmonary (23.5%), neurological (21.8%) and dermatological (8.1%).

          Other uses of smoke are not exactly medical but beneficial to health, and include smoke as a preservative or a repellent and the social use of smoke.

          The three main methods for administering smoke are inhalation, which accounts for 71.5% of the indications; smoke directed at a specific organ or body part, which accounts for 24.5%; ambient smoke (passive smoking), which makes up the remaining 4.0%. Whereas inhalation is typically used in the treatment of pulmonary and neurological disorders and directed smoke in localized situations, such as dermatological and genito-urinary disorders, ambient smoke is not directed at the body at all but used as an air purifier.

          The advantages of smoke-based remedies are rapid delivery to the brain, more efficient absorption by the body and lower costs of production. This review highlights the fact that not enough is known about medicinal smoke and that a lot of natural products have potential for use as medicine in the smoke form.

          Furthermore, this review argues in favor of medicinal smoke extended use in modern medicine as a form of drug delivery and as a promising source of new active natural ingredients”

        • harleyrider1978 says:

          Might be time to end tobacco control and bring back smoking and vaping to save is all from killer bugs picked up in public places anywhere.

          To Fight Growing Threat From Germs, Scientists Try Old-Fashioned Killer

          Bacteriophages, little-used for decades in the U.S. and much of Europe, are gaining new attention because of resistance to antibiotics.

  3. Smoking Lamp says:

    Frank, Thanks for posting this and the reminder about Lauren Colby’s fine book. I think smoking without nicety would be less enjoyable, but I only base that on trying extra light brands: Marlboro Ultra-Lights (now Silver) and carleton. Both were less than satisfying when compared to marlboro Lights or the regular Reds. That reminds me, the mandated removal of the terms lights is another example of tobacco control insanity that takes all choice (about flavor) away from the consumer in an effort to stigmatize the product.

    • Lepercolonist says:

      I forgot about Carletons. With those perforated filters that gave me a headache trying to bring up some smoke. I agree, Smoking Lamp, less than satisfying.

  4. jltrader says:

    I remember Lauren Colby – his book is very good and it made me start questioning the ‘active smoking kills’ you mantra. Nice guy, he emailed me back in 2004 when I sent him a question, just found it in the inbox archive.

  5. Jonathan Bagley says:

    From my experience, nicotine is the most important active ingredient. Around 2009, I ordered an ecig at great expense and found it to be a useless substitute for tobacco. It did not at all quench my desire for a cigarette. In 2012, I decided to give it one more go. The experience of the first few puffs reminded me of teenage smoking. I was certainly getting a massive nicotine hit and knew within seconds life would never be the same.

  6. Rose says:

    The Active Ingredient In Smoke Is Smoke

    I find that I really have nothing to add.

    When is a leaf not a leaf, when it has been transformed by fire.

  7. Rose says:

    A true story.

    Two non smokers are going to a dinner party, they buy a very large and expensive firework to set off at the end of the celebrations.

    What happened next?


    No one in the house had a lighter or any other means of making fire.
    Makes you think doesn’t it?

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      Sounds like 2 very subhuman individuals Amazing their DNA survived.

      • Rose says:

        Not really, Harley, at least one of them was brought up in a smoking household and with smoking friends, where lighters were always available for doing such things.
        The way things are going, non smokers are going to have to learn to fend for themselves.

    • beobrigitte says:

      Rose, priceless!!!
      A true story.

      Two non smokers are going to a dinner party, they buy a very large and expensive firework to set off at the end of the celebrations.

      What happened next?


      No one in the house had a lighter or any other means of making fire.
      Makes you think doesn’t it?

      No wonder I am always the one setting off the fireworks on New Years Eve….. There is nothing better than a lit cigarette to get it going!!!

  8. harleyrider1978 says:

    CAMRA report: people who visit local pub are happier, have more friends & are more satisfied

    By Emily Sutherland, 22-Jan-2016

    Research from the University of Oxford has revealed people who have a local or regularly visit small community pubs are happier, have more close friends, and are more satisfied with their lives than those who don’t.

  9. harleyrider1978 says:

    Anger at Lynton Crosby’s UK Australian of the Year award over tobacco lobby links

    Public Health Association of Australia CEO is ‘flabbergasted’ at Crosby’s honour for role in running Conservative party’s election campaign

    By Melissa Davey

    My comment

    Perhaps Michael Moore would rather see Hitler made man of the year for his anti-smoking laws and junk science adventures:

    Even Hitler used the children like Mr. Moore has to inject his radical ideologies off on liberty loving people all over the world who just happen to smoke.

    Look who first invented the Passive smoking Fraud

    Hitler’s Anti-Tobacco Campaign

    One particularly vile individual, Karl Astel — upstanding president of Jena University, poisonous anti-Semite, euthanasia fanatic, SS officer, war criminal and tobacco-free Germany enthusiast — liked to walk up to smokers and tear cigarettes from their unsuspecting mouths. (He committed suicide when the war ended, more through disappointment than fear of hanging.) It comes as little surprise to discover that the phrase “passive smoking” (Passivrauchen) was coined not by contemporary American admen, but by Fritz Lickint, the author of the magisterial 1100-page Tabak und Organismus (“Tobacco and the Organism”), which was produced in collaboration with the German AntiTobacco League.

    That’s fine company are so called public health depts. keep with ehh!

    History can shed so much lite on todays own movement it just amazes the mind………..

    Hitler Youth had anti-smoking patrols all over Germany, outside movie houses and in entertainment areas, sports fields etc., and smoking was strictly forbidden to these millions of German youth growing up under Hitler.”

  10. garyk30 says:

    What is this nicotine ‘hit’ thing.
    Is it a tingle or a buzz or some other sensation?

    I have been smoking one thing or another for 5o years and have never experienced such a thing, ever.

    • Rose says:

      Very good question Gary.
      We must have been doing it wrong all these years.

      • junican says:

        I agree. There is only a ‘nicotine hit’ when you have not smoked for some time and light up the first one. But that momentary dizziness may not be the nicotine. No one knows. It may be something else. The reality is that smokers light a cig and enjoy the taste and the feeling of relaxation. It is the relaxation which is the important thing. The problem is that the Zealots stole those pleasant feelings and transformed them into addiction and mental illness. It is interesting to note that, by and large, alcohol diminishes inhibitions. We go out , or to a party, whether in a pub or at some other place, and, as we imbibe beer, wine or spirits, our minds become sharper and our moods are raised to a sense of happiness. Smoking in those circumstances adds a different layer of awareness. It calms a little. Further, it encourages ‘smarter thinking’.
        For years and years, I have had my best ideas for solving problems of any kind, it the pub when I was having a pint or two and a few cigs. Not excessively, of course. There is a curve in effectiveness.

        I have often wondered how that clarity of thinking works. I suspect that it works because extraneous fears and uncertainties are removed, and your mind can concentrate on the real problem without fear. FEAR is a huge inhibitor of action. Is that not why the fines for actually committing the crime of smoking in a pub were paltry, while the fines for NOT smoking, but NOT using force to stop another individual from smoking, were enormous?

        I still, still, cannot for the life of me understand why publican organisations did not fight, and fight again, against the criminalisation of publicans for accepting the smoking ban. By ‘accepting the smoking ban’, I mean putting up notices saying that ‘smoking is prohibited in these premises’. I do not mean using force against their best customers and often friends.

        It is quite possible that the end of smoking bans will come from an unexpected direction. Some publican, somewhere in Europe, will win a law case over something completely different, which asserts that his pub, bar, is his property, and that he has rights to allow whatever actions are not illegal. That last is what is most important. If smoking is not illegal, then he can permit it. But the legality will come from some other activity.

        We can only hope…..

        • Frank Davis says:

          For years and years, I have had my best ideas for solving problems of any kind, it the pub when I was having a pint or two and a few cigs.

          I have a very similar experience.

          My orbital simulation model started life in a pub when a physicist friend of mine explained, using a biro on a napkin, how they worked. I went home and wrote my first simple model the next day. That was 20 years or so ago. And we were both sitting inside the pub. And both smoking and drinking.

        • Roobeedoo2 says:

          ’17 December 1992: A bomb hidden in a litter bin in a third-floor men’s lavatory of the John Lewis department store, Oxford Street, London, by the IRA detonated just after 11 am. A second bomb exploded 15 minutes later at the rear of the store, in Cavendish Square, while shoppers and staff were still being evacuated. Four people were injured. Another small device exploded in a litter bin Cavendish Square, W1 slightly injuring three people.’

          The day I started smoking again. Inside a pub.

  11. Emily Wieja says:

    Personally I’ve always had the feeling that it’s the tobacco, or something in the tobacco besides nicotine, that is satisfying to me. The MAOIs or whatever, though I know little about them. I hate nicotine gum and vaping, but I enjoy smoking and snus.

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