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Roll-up cigarettes are just as dangerous as ready-made ones

Roll-up cigarettes are just as dangerous as ready-made ones

Lots of people think that rolling their own cigarettes isn’t as bad for them as smoking ready-made ones.

But that’s not true – we’ve known for a long time that there’s no such thing as a ‘safe’ cigarette.

And now, a new study published in the journal Addiction Biology confirms that roll-your-own cigarettes are just as dangerous as factory-made ones.

Measuring chemical exposure

To find out how harmful the two types of cigarettes really are, the researchers calculated the levels of two groups of cancer-causing chemicals found in tobacco smoke (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and tobacco-specific N-nitrosamines (TSNA)) inside the bodies of smokers.

To do this, they took urine samples from smokers of both factory-made and roll-your-own cigarettes, and measured the levels of particular molecules that are made when our bodies break these tobacco chemicals down.

These levels are a reliable indicator of how much of the original, cancer-causing chemicals the smokers were exposed to. In short, they’re a good indicator of how bad one form of smoking is versus another.

People who smoked either ready-made or roll-your-own cigarettes had the same levels of both groups of chemicals, even when their age, sex, body mass index, ‘puffing behaviour’ (how long and how hard people puffed) and nicotine exposure were taken into account.

Although the research didn’t look at the other 60 or so carcinogens in tobacco smoke, the two that they studied are likely to play a major role in the development of cancer in smokers.

Worryingly, women had higher levels of both toxins in their bodies than men, no matter what type of cigarette they smoked. This is interesting, because there is some evidence that women seem to have a higher risk of developing lung cancer than men, taking into account the amount they smoke.

The authors of this latest study point out that we don’t know of any reasons for this, and call for more research to find out whether the effect is real, and if so, what might be causing it.

No less harmful

The results of this study suggest that roll-your-own cigarettes are just as dangerous as ready-made ones. And women may be in even more danger of developing smoking-related diseases than men.

The lead researcher, Dr. Lion Shahab, said:

Many smokers believe that roll-your-own cigarettes are more ‘natural’ and therefore are less harmful than manufactured cigarettes. The current findings suggest that this is not the case.

There is some evidence that female smokers may be more likely to develop lung cancer than male smokers. These findings suggest that women in particular may be at greater risk because they accumulate higher concentrations of cancer causing chemicals in their body whether they smoke roll-your-own or manufactured cigarettes.

We’ve said many times before that there’s no safe cigarette. And this latest study adds yet more evidence to the already-large pile showing the harm caused by smoking.

Giving up smoking is the best present you will ever give yourself. Your health will improve from the moment you quit, you’ll save money, and you could be happier too. Your doctor can give you help and support to give up smoking.



Shahab, L., West, R., & McNeill, A. (2009). A comparison of exposure to carcinogens among roll-your-own and factory-made cigarette smokers Addiction Biology, 14 (3), 315-320 DOI: 10.1111/j.1369-1600.2009.00157.x


Grant May 23, 2011

I quit tomorrow after about 25 years of smoking. I have smoked un-filtered roll your own for 99% of this time and I do not have a smokers cough, but I do now feel the impact on my lungs a little and would not recommend smoking at all. Any type of physical exertion has become more laboured, and it is not a sensation I enjoy. I turn 40 this year and apparently I have a lung age of 64. This I will endeavour to improve as I have goals that demand my lungs perform. I feel that roll your own is the lesser of the two evils though and will explain why. I switched to roll your own after about three years of smoking filters because the price of filters in Australia stared to climb severely. When I started smoking in 1987 I could buy a pack of 20’s for around $1.50, now they are around $15. Thats a 1000% increase in 25 years mainly in tax, quite incredible, but not really much of a deterent it seems. Anyway, my father was a tobacco exec for about 35 years, so this did at times reduce my expenditure. One thing I did learn from him is that there are distinct differences between these two types of tobacco. If your break open an filter cigarette and compare the tobaccos, you will notice that the difference is obvious. If you try and smoke the filter tobacco rolled, you find it very unenjoyable,dry and harsh. This is because the process in which they are prepared is different. Filter tobacco is inflated, this is done by some type of chemical process that expands the leaf so it will puff out and increase in size. This is obviously done to reduce the amount of tobacco needed to manufacture one filter cigarette, thereby increasing company profit. I imagine that the residues from this process are still in the leaf and contribute to many unhealthy effects. There are probably other preparations that the leaf goes through, but this one serves to define a significant difference. There is another issue that I would assume would be quite common to both types and would be my main cause for health concerns. Having grown a tobacco plant myself, I noticed something that led me to assume that they are treated with very powerful pesticides. As my plant matured, it developed thousands of miniscule hairs on every heart-shaped leaf and on the tip of every hair, a quite obvious clear drop of resin. Any small insect, such as a midge would get stuck to the leaves and die and making the tobacco quite unsmokable as they are impossible to remove. I imagine the amount of chemical required to deter the insect from a location where tobacco is grown, would be substantial and would contribute greatly to the ill effects of smoking. Before my time smoking, tobacco came mostly from the Americas, its native home and the quality was quite high. Now most of the tobacco we smoke in Australia comes from Korea as I understand, but i cant comment on the quality. Regardless it is still subject to much treatment and preparation before it hits the shelves and as we know, with anything that is processed whether it be food etc, it becomes unhealthy. We have equity groups and multinationals to thank for our low quality of goods, who raise productivity and reduce quality without regard for the consumer, but that is another arguement. The different effects of types of tobacco differ quite greatly also. Quality pipe tobacco seems to have a sedative effect very different and much higher than any tobacco I have tried, and it is not inhaled. I have also smoked an expensive cigar that was 35 yrs old, a very similar and enjoyable effect. Either of the two are incredibly different to any effect from cigarette tobacco and only inhaled into the mouth. To prepare such high quality tobaccos, it must be cured for 9 to 12 months. I can not imagine that any cigarette tobacco is subject to this much care, leading me to question what it is exactly that we are being sold. Even Alfred Dunhill digressed that habit smoking was an undesirable result of his endeavours. He tried to promote it as an occasional enjoyment, but demand and production has created this monster we now have. I encourage anyone that reads this not to take up smoking this garbage we are being sold, or to leave it be and enjoy a life without it. There are so many reasons besides your health. These companies have even less concern for your wellbeing than you may think.

thatsthepoint December 11, 2009

Dear wotsthepoint,

When you stop smoking, it’s normal to experience withdrawal symptoms such as anhedonia (lack of a feeling of enjoyment) but this relatively short-lived By contrast, due to the interaction of the chemicals in cigarette smoke and brain neurotransmitters that are involved in reward (e.g. dopamine), smokers are likely to be more stressed throughout the day (for the periods when they are not smoking) than non-smokers and in the long-term this can affect mental health. So, far from being more miserable, people who stop smoking actually report feeling happier (

wotsthepoint December 4, 2009

Why not enjoy a cigarette and a beer, thats all the working man wants simple needs, instead be fit till the ripe old age and get dementia, or some old age related disease that the NHS won’t want to help you with, or take your home away in the process of caring for you,old peoples home etc,so eat drink and be merry cause nobody wants to care for you when you get old, it is the biggest scandle perpitrated on our old people,neglect yet you preach about living healthy, just to create a different layer of misery waiting for you in your old age, you anti smokers just want people to be miserable all there lives not just when they get ill from smoking too much just let people live how they want , and if they want to smoke I say good luck to them.

Jess Harris November 25, 2009

Hi Christine,

Sorry for the misunderstanding. As mentioned in our earlier post, the chart linked to was comparing European countries and so of course a substantial portion of the world was not mentioned! However, we do know that lung cancer rates among European men are among the highest in the world.

We know you agree that smoking causes lung cancer. Comparing the evidence for smoking and diet was just meant to show that smoking has a huge effect on lung cancer risk, and diet a much weaker one – so eating a healthy diet can’t compensate for smoking in terms of lung cancer risk.

There’s information about the contribution of different risk factors (including smoking and diet) for lung cancer on our CancerStats site. This page is referenced to the original scientific papers that provide the evidence for the statistics.

This page also talks about air pollution and exposure to chemicals found in industry, and how much they can affect the risk of lung cancer. Exposure to pollution and certain industrial chemicals has been shown to affect the risk of lung cancer, but the number of cases of lung cancer caused by these exposures is much smaller than the number caused by smoking.

There’s also some information about air pollution and its contribution to lung cancer on our Healthy Living site. This page is written in a more accessible way, as the CancerStats site is designed for health professionals.

All Cancer Research UK’s messages are based on scientific evidence and far from being “zealots”, we’re constantly examining new evidence to make sure that what we say is based on the latest, and most accurate information.

With regards your point on tobacco smoking/health – tobacco smoking in the UK peaked in the 1940s for men, and in the 1970s for women. Lung cancer incidence follows the same pattern with a time lag of a decade or so. Improvements in life expectancy go hand in hand with developments in healthcare, standards of living and treatments for diseases. This includes the widespread use of antibiotics, which began to be used routinely in the early 1940s.

Christine November 22, 2009

Thanks Jess for yet another input totally devoted to the argument of its author. Even the “evidence” logged by yourself did not support your stance, again, you dismiss (ignore) what I stated. You place Greece as fifth in the “world” chart of lung cancer incidence but let us look at how much of the “world” you left out. Forgive me if I am mistaken but I believe I did concur that smoking is harmful and contributory to poor health and lung cancers. However many other questions are raised, and zealots such as yourself give no answer to these other than pushing such queries aside and misquoting statistics.
After you have ignored my acceptance of smoking and it being contributory to illnesses including cancers, you roll past the issue of diet claiming complexities as a reason to disregard such.
To get on the same game board as yourself Jess, how much is the contribution to the illnesses/cancers in question, caused by motoring pollutions, airplane pollutions, manufacturing/chemical pollutions, etc, etc. It is so easy to throw stones at visible targets (somebody with a fag in their mouth) but do you still fly around the world, drive a car, drive too fast and too many miles a year, have central heating, shop at Tesco, use a washing machine, have all electrical equipment without standby, and on and on.
By the way, another anomaly for you, when tobacco abuse was at its height for more than 150 years, why did life longevity increase dramatically?

Cigarette Machines October 16, 2009

No need to even ask – Just as bad as store bought.

Sure one can argue ‘manufactured’ cigarettes contain preservatives but that’s like saying “comparing to manufactured ROY tobacco contains 3095 chemicals rather then 4005 in made cigarettes”

hugh August 12, 2009

Jess,thanks for your letter. as you rightly say smoking causes many illnesses. I useed to get up in the morning,have two cups of coffee,two or three cigarettes and then rush off to work,completely criminal on reflection. You are right about diet for a heal;thy lifestyle,not only for cancer,but many more,obesity for one thing which puts such a strain on the body,usually leading to strokes and heart problems. Since my operation for stomach cancer,I have been advised to eat lots of so called good dairy produce,to try to maintain weight,orm put on. Was a bit worried about high cholestral,but had that checked with no problems there. I believ that in Japan there is a great number of stomach cancer cases caused by their diet,dont know much about their cuisine,but will have to look it up. all the best to you Hugh

Jess Harris August 12, 2009

Thanks for the comments everyone.

Christine – The evidence that links tobacco smoking to lung cancer is very convincing and comes from decades of research. Tobacco is the single most important cause of cancer in the world, and accounts for 1 in 4 cancer deaths in the UK.
The rates of lung cancer in Greece, far from being the lowest, are actually among the highest in Europe. Lung cancer rates among Greek men are the fifth highest. As you say, Greece is a nation with high smoking rates. And as Hugh alludes to, smoking causes a wide variety of other diseases besides lung cancer, including at least a dozen different types of cancer, heart disease, stroke, and more.

In terms of diet, eating a healthy diet high in fibre, fruit and vegetables and low in saturated fat, red and processed meat and salt, is a good way to stay healthy and reduce the risk of cancer. Because the links between diet and cancer are complicated, researchers are always working on getting more evidence about which foods affect cancer risk, and by how much. But eating a healthy diet can’t compensate for smoking in terms of cancer risk.

F McFarlane – I can understand you being worried about your daughter, there is a lot of information on our website about giving up smoking on our Healthy Living site.

hugh August 11, 2009

Hi, another message for Christine. I forgot to congratulate you on surviving lung cancer. I guess the chem abd radio must have been very difficult,but u have survived. Bravo. I am also a survivor from stomach cancer. Had chemotherapy 2 years ago followed by total removal of my gastrectomy. It has been very difficult,but thanks to wonderful surgeon and oncologists I,m still around. My very best wishes to you. Hugh

F McFarlane August 10, 2009


I am worrying about my 19 year old daughter smoking
and would be obliged if you could help me in anyway
to try and stop it. She tells me she does not smoke
but I can smell it on her and her clothes.

hugh August 8, 2009

Hi Christine,a very interesting letter from you about nicotine and diet. I have spent every year for the last twenty years in Greece on holiday,and have noticed how many men smoke. I believe their diet is very healthy,but I dont think that justifies smoking. I smoke myself but am down to 3 per day,still too many. Even though the Greeks may escape the cancer. I also noticed a great number of them aged prematurely and very slow and walking with sticks. Apart from the cancer risk their is the premature ageing and slowing down. The greek women do not seem to smoke as much as the men,and they live much longer. This would seem to me a great reason for stopping altogether. thanks Hugh

christine pyzer August 6, 2009

I would not attempt to disqualify anything said about cancer and tobacco smoking, but as a lung cancer survivor I believe I have something to contribute.
For all the evidence that proves lung cancer incidences relates to tobacco smoking, how do other facts disprove such? Eg, Greece – the highest smoking nation, per capita, has the lowest incidence of heart disease and lung cancer in the world, why?
This email headed itself by referring to diet and its importance to health and diseases such as lung cancer. Maybe diet is far more important than we think and maybe nicotine, alcohol, cannabis, etc, are not as important as we believe. With all your knowledge on this subject please explain to me this incredible anomaly?
Thank you, Christine.