Cellulose
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Cellulose

​Cellulose fibre

Cellulose fibre is the basic structural material of most plants, and can be obtained from various natural plant-based sources such as wood pulp, cotton, flax and hemp.

General use

Cellulose fibres are used to make many different products that include paper, textiles, and cardboard. The cellulose that makes up these fibres (or a modified version) is also used in the food industry as anti-caking agents, emulsifiers, formulation aids, stabilizers, thickeners and texturizers, and also in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries where it performs similar roles.

Reported tobacco industry uses

The tobacco part of most cigarettes (i.e. the shredded brown interior) is a mixture of the tobacco leaf and a paper-like product called ‘reconstituted tobacco’.  Reconstituted tobacco is made up of mashed tobacco stems and other parts of the tobacco leaf that would otherwise be discarded. Tobacco manufacturers add cellulose fibre to help bind and fill this reconstituted tobacco in cigarettes.

Tobacco manufacturers also use cellulose to prepare both the cigarette paper that wraps the tobacco, and the filter (both the inner and outer layers). The cigarette paper is a very important part of a cigarette. It controls how the tobacco burns, and the amount of smoke. Generally, the more cellulose used the greater the amount of smoke that is produced.

Cellulose fibres are naturally present in tobacco (at levels ranging from about 5% to 12%). The maximum amount of cellulose fibres that is further added is about 6% of the total weight of the tobacco used in one cigarette.

Harmful health effects

Cellulose Fibre is generally regarded as safe for use in food and cosmetics. However, this does not suggest it is safe when inhaled from smoking cigarettes. The entire cellulose fibre added to the cigarette is burnt while smoking. Many harmful compounds are formed that can either irritate the eyes and upper parts of the airways (e.g. acrolein), or cause cancer, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, benzo(a)pyrene, benzene, furan, and formaldehyde. These compounds have been classified as human cancer-causing agents by  the International Agency for Research on Cancer, (a leading expert cancer organisation).

The use of cellulose fibres may be indirectly harmful due to the formation of compounds called aldehydes (e.g. acetaldehyde), which can make cigarettes more addictive by enhancing the addictive potential of nicotine. Aldehydes are very reactive and produce other compounds such as the substance harman, which can also make cigarettes more addictive due to its mood-enhancing effect on the brain. This can ultimately lead to more cigarettes being smoked and thus greater exposure to the toxic substances in cigarette smoke. 

In some products, flavours such as vanilla are added to cellulose during the paper-making process. This ensures that the smell of the smoke coming from the lit end of the cigarette (i.e. sidestream smoke) has a more pleasant aroma. This is a concern because not only could it allay any potential worries  smokers may have about their habit but it could also increase non-smokers tolerance to sidestream smoke, and thereby increase their exposure to secondhand smoke.

This text of the factsheet on the tobacco additive cellulose fibre was written by the German Cancer Research Centre (DKFZ). You can find the original in English on the RIVM website http://www.dkfz.de/de/tabakkontrolle  

This initiative has received funding from the European Union in the framework of the Health Programme.