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The term ‘cocoa’ refers to the seeds or beans that are contained in the pod (fruit) of a cocoa tree that grows in the tropics. The seed-based product that is extracted contains several substances that can affect the mind i.e. ‘psychoactive’ compounds. For example, caffeine, serotonin, theobromine, tryptophan and tryptamine are all psychoactive substances present in the seed extract.

General uses

Extracts from the cocoa seed are used to make chocolate, and other food and drink-based products. They are also used in the cosmetic industry. 

Reported tobacco industry uses

All parts of the cocoa pod (i.e. the shell, extract, and its powder) are used to help produce the tobacco in cigarettes. The chocolate notes in cocoa are reportedly added to make the tobacco smooth and to enhance its flavour.

The average amount of cocoa added to cigarettes is around 0.3% of the total weight of the tobacco used in one cigarette. The maximum amount of cocoa added is reported to be just over 1% of the total tobacco weight.

Harmful health effects

It is unclear whether cocoa increases the toxicity of cigarette smoke. However, due to its potential ability to make cigarettes more attractive, cocoa may be toxic indirectly. For instance, adding cocoa to make cigarettes taste better can make it easier for a smoker to become addicted. Furthermore, the psychoactive compounds that are present in cocoa have also been detected in cigarette smoke. These compounds are thought to increase the addictiveness of cigarettes in two ways: (1) helping the lungs take up more nicotine into the body, and (2) forming the substance harman, which is believed to improve a person’s mood in a similar way to anti-depressant drugs. 

It is not known to what extent cocoa affects the taste and smell of the smoke that is inhaled by the smoker. Also, the low amounts of these compounds in cigarettes does question whether cocoa can influence cigarette addiction in a major way. Nonetheless, what is known is that additives with the ability to improve a cigarette’s taste could ultimately lead to more cigarettes being smoked, and therefore greater exposure to the toxic substances in cigarette smoke. 

This text of the factsheet on the tobacco additive cocoa written by the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM). You can find the original in English on the RIVM website  

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