Burning a cigarette is actually a very complex process, from a scientific standpoint at least. A great number of chemical reactions occur, due to the physical processes involved in the combustion. Basically however the burning zone in the cigarette can be divided into two regions :-

1. The combustion zone. In this zone oxygen reacts with carbonised tobacco, releasing simple gasses like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The burning process is fairly efficient, and temperatures here can reach 700-950 centigrade.

2. The pyrolysis/distillation zone. Just behind the combustion zone is where the interesting chemistry goes on. Here the oxygen content is too low to give complete combustion, but the temperature is still high enough (200-600o) to support a myriad of chemical reactions. About one third of the final smoke components distil out of the tobacco here.

What results is a super-saturated vapor which within a couple of milliseconds, condenses into the aerosol of ash particles that makes up the visible smoke. About 4800 different consituents have been found in cigarette smoke, including some metals that were present in the tobacco plant. Most of these substances are probably bad for you. Although some of the chemicals produced may, in fact, have some anti-cancer properties.

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