What Are Cigarette Filters Made From and Are They Bad for You?

Written by natalie o'hara
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What Are Cigarette Filters Made From and Are They Bad for You?
Cigarette filters can take many years to degrade, and their components may actually be harmful to the environment once discarded. (Martin Poole/Photodisc/Getty Images)

There has been much research and many studies done showing the harmful effects of cigarette smoking and tobacco intake. However, while smokers may know the dangers of cigarette smoke and tobacco itself, they may be less aware of the components and effects of cigarette filters on smoking. Cigarette filters are actually quite complex in their make-up, and contain many more substances than most smokers may know.

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Fibrous Plug

The inside of a cigarette filter is made of a combination of cellulose acetate (a type of plastic), paper, and rayon fibres, usually bonded by a substance used specifically to bond and adhere to plastic fibres. These fibres are used in the filter in order to catch any tobacco pieces and particles created while smoking.

Plug Wrap and Glue

The cellulose acetate plug in a cigarette is wrapped in an inner paper wrapper, which can either block out all outside air to allow for more smoke inside the cigarette, or can also be very porous to the air in the case of "light" cigarettes. The inner paper liner, or plug wrap, is then glued together around the filter plug.

Tipping Paper

Tipping paper is the outer layer of paper in a cigarette filter. This paper is usually designed not to stick to the smoker's lips to allow for a more enjoyable smoking experience. The outer layer of paper also connects the filter to the cigarette.


In some cigarette filters, charcoal also acts as a filtration agent. This charcoal, if found in a cigarette, resides within the plastic fibres of the cigarette filter. Commonly used in water purifiers, charcoal is known for its absorption abilities and some cigarette manufacturers have thus heralded it to produce "cleaner" smoke.

Health Concerns

For most researchers, the most detrimental effects from cigarettes come not from the substances found in cigarette filters, but rather from smoking tobacco itself, as the habit has been linked to lung cancer, oral cancer and other long-term health problems. In addition, while "light" cigarettes allow more smoke to escape from the cigarette -- theoretically making the cigarette better for smokers -- in reality, the lips and fingers of smokers usually cover these holes, making them useless in terms of porosity. The deeper breaths that "light" cigarette smokers often have to take in order to make up for this porosity may actually cause greater tobacco intake than a normal cigarette. While there has been historical production of harmful cigarette filters -- such as the asbestos-containing cigarettes of Kent brand cigarettes in the 1950s -- the cigarette filters produced today do not have extremely detrimental effects in comparison to the habit of smoking itself.

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