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Glycerol, which is also known as glycerin or glycerine, is a sweet-tasting, odourless, and colourless liquid. It is naturally present in animal or vegetable fat. 

General uses

Glycerol is widely used in many industrial and consumer products, e.g. soaps/detergents, medicines, cosmetics, food, drinks, paints, resins and paper.

Reported tobacco industry uses

Tobacco manufacturers report that they add glycerol to tobacco to help keep it moist, and this is mostly via the sauce or “casing”, which is added to help process the tobacco. Glycerol is also used in the cigarette paper.

Generally, the amount of glycerol present in cigarettes depends on the cigarette brand. In the Netherlands, the average amount of glycerol added is 1.0 % of the total weight of the tobacco used and the maximum amount is 4.4%. These levels compare with the amount of glycerol added to one cigarette (in the EU), which is reported to be on average 1.1% with a maximum level comprising 4.5% of the total weight of the tobacco used. This makes glycerol one of the most predominant additives in tobacco.

Harmful health effects

When a cigarette is smoked, almost all of the glycerol is transferred to the smoke unchanged. These amounts of glycerol are high enough to irritate the airways. In addition, a very small amount of glycerol burns to form the compound acrolein, which when inhaled can also irritate the airways.

There are currently no studies providing information on whether glycerol affects smoking addiction. However, glycerol may also be indirectly toxic due to its ability to keep a cigarette from drying out, which makes cigarettes more appealing and easier to smoke. By encouraging the smoking habit, smokers are ultimately exposed to higher levels of the toxic substances in cigarette smoke.

'This text is a translation of the factsheet on the tobacco additive glycerol 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.