Cigarette Filters: Effectiveness & Components

Cigarette filters are designed to decrease the amount of smoke and other chemical particles inhaled by smokers. The reduction of these elements by the cigarette filter serves to reduce lung and throat irritation. However, the filters are mainly made of synthetics and are very harmful to the environment. Although its purpose is to absorb some of the harmful chemicals of tobacco smoke, a filter has its own chemicals that affect smokers and the environment.

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 products in the 1950s were made of materials such as asbestos and charcoal.

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.

Filter Paper
The cellulose acetate serves as a filter plug, with polyvinyl acetate emulsion used as a glue to attach the plug to the wrapper. The wrapper paper does not allow any air to penetrate it in regular cigarettes and is slightly ventilated to allow some air in in “light” cigarettes. The paper on the outside of the filter is made to not stick to smokers’ lips. Some cigarettes, like Parliament, also use charcoal as a filtering agent to add to the smoothness of the cigarette and create a more desirable ash color.

Filter Plastics
Filters are 95 percent thin plastic threads (cellulose acetate) wound together to create a cotton-like filter. These filters consist of many Y-shaped fibers intertwined that contain the delustrant titanium dioxide and more acetate. Triacetin (also known as Triacetylglycerin or glycerol triacetate, CAS: 102-76-1) and polyethylene are applied to bond the fibers and create the filter. Cigarette companies have tried to replace acetate but smokers prefer the taste the acetate filter produces.

Impact On Environment
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.