Is cigarette ash flammable?

In this article we will discuss the following: “Is cigarette ash flammable?”. We will also provide some background on the history of cigarettes and other important inquiries.

Is cigarette ash flammable?

Well, it depends. Extinguished cigarette ashes that are cold and have no fire inside are not flammable and have much less chance to burn than cigarettes themselves. But cigarette ashes may contain ember as well, and then we have a flammability hazard.

Cigarettes and tobacco

A cigarette is a narrow cylinder that contains a combustible material, normally tobacco rolled up in paper for the intent of smoking. There are also electronic cigarettes, but the rolled version is still the most consumed worldwide.

Cigarettes are made mainly of 4 things: paper, a tobacco blend, additives, and cigarette filter.

There are several health conditions associated with smoking tobacco. Around half of cigarette smokers perish due to tobacco-related diseases, and lose an average of 14 years of life.

But the risks of using electronic cigarettes and vapers are still unknown. The health-associated risks data is still scarce to this date.

Tobacco plants are in the genus Nicotiana, and are indigenous from the Americas, Australia, and some parts of Africa and the South Pacific.

To produce cigarettes, first, the tobacco must be cured. This process allows many flavors to be formed, they help achieve some smoothness standards the smoke requires. Besides allowing it to be easily flammable.

Smoked forms of tobacco had only started to be used recently, in the 16th century. In some places of America, snuffed tobacco is being used for at least 5000 years, for ritualistic purposes.

Even though tobacco is considered one of the 5 most addictive drugs in the world, thanks to nicotine, the native folks believed (and believe) that it serves medicinal purposes, especially when mixed with other psychoactive plants.

Earlier forms of cigarettes appear to have been initiated around the 9th century, in Mexico and Central America. The use of tobacco in cigarettes started widespread in the middle of the 19th-century, in Europe.

In the Western world, cigarettes only started popularizing in the 20th century. By the year 1956, half of the male American population was already smoking, but this number started to drop especially since 2006.

Environmental hazards

As you may know, litten cigarettes are a significant precursor of environmental fires.

Lit cigarette butts are a major concern worldwide due to the possibility of starting fires, especially during dry and hot seasons. They are also a big source of pollution. Each year, about 4.5 trillion (yes, with a “T”) cigarettes are discarded worldwide.

But the truth is: even a lit cigarette is not easily capable of burning something up, their fire extinguishes quickly. So why are they hazardous in this way?

Each individual cigarette is not likely that would start a fire, but the U.S alone has over 30 million adult smokers. Can you imagine how many lit cigarettes are thrown on the ground every day?

It doesn’t matter if there’s only a small chance a lit cigarette would start a fire. When there are millions of small fire dots being tossed into combustible things, bushfires will eventually happen. And they do.

In reverse, a single fire spot could burn many acres of native forest, under the right circumstances.

In 2020, more than a million acres of remnant forest were burned in Australia. The fire destroyed 312 homes, damaged other 173, killed 3 people and countless animal species. This event became known as the Currowan bushfire.

In the same year, 30% of an entire biome was completely burned in Brazil. Home for many endangered species like jaguar and some crocodiles, the fire is considered to have been started criminally, by landowner farmers.

Bushfires can speed up the desertification process globally, which is related to the extinction of several animal species, especially the big ones. 

In a more global sense, fires in nature can alter entire biomes, changing maritime air masses that travel between continents, for example. Nature can’t see the borders that humans have created in their minds.

Our globe is intimately connected, a fire in one place can lead to extinction-level events in another, in the long term. Every source of bushfires should be avoided.

An explanation about fires

Before we continue, we must explain a few important characteristics of Fire.

Fire is the result of combustion, it’s a byproduct of a chemical reaction. Combustion is something that happens when a source of fuel interacts with the air’s oxygen. 

The carbon (C) atoms within organic compounds, usually hydrocarbons, can exchange their bondings with hydrogen (H) and other carbons for oxygen (O) bondings, giving birth to carbon dioxide (CO2). This is essentially what burning is.

Source: https://sites.google.com/site/microbesbyalice/what-is-a-hydrocarbon

But as you can see from the picture above, hydrocarbons have a lot of hydrogen as well. Where do they go?

They also reacted with oxygen, forming water (H2O). 

Have you ever felt your hand wet after leaving it close to a fire, before? This is now necessarily sweating, it’s the water molecules condensing in your hand.

So, the byproducts of combustion reactions are: carbon dioxide, water, heat, and light.

Hydrocarbons are very energetic molecules, this is why we use them as fuels. This energy comes from the chemical bonds carbons do. 

Whenever a fire happens, the chemical energy is transformed into heat and light, other forms of energy. 

Now that we know more about fire, let’s understand its residues.

Fire residues

Fire residues are anything left unburned after the combustion of a source of fuel.

This can happen due to many reasons, depending on the type of fuel. One of the main reasons is simple: residues are substances that couldn’t burn.

Ashes like cigarette ashes are everything that’s left from the burning. The explanation for this is that those substances couldn’t reach enough temperature, or that they simply can’t burn no matter the temperature.

In fact, the tip of a lit cigarette can reach up to 1000ºC (537°F), so whatever is in the cigarette’s ashes, can’t burn easily.

Are cigarette ashes flammable?

Cigarette ashes are composed mainly of inorganic compounds, heavy metals, and some unburned forms of fuel.

If the flames from a lighter could burn the components mentioned, they would have burned while the cigarette was on. 

So any powdering thing left in an ashtray is definitely not flammable. But ember could be a fire hazard if it lives long enough to hit the ground.

There are thousands of cigarette brands worldwide. It’s hard to assume that all of them would work the same way. If we add hand-rolled cigarettes to this equation using things other than tobacco, it’s just going to be even harder.

But what we can assume is this: there’s no guarantee that cigarette ash won’t carry ember to the ground (or furniture, paper, hair, and other sources of fuel). 

Any form of fire is a major fire hazard unless it is put down.

Conclusion

Cigarette ashes as that grey powder left in ashtrays will not catch fire and is not a fire hazard. But ashes coming right out of a cigarette may bring ember with them, it could reach a flammable compound and start a fire.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS): Is cigarette ash flammable?

Is cigarette ash good for plants?

No. There’s no way to be sure what exactly is in cigarette ash. It could be low on nutrients or have too much of another compound, prejudicing your plants. 

There are rumors that the ashes could contain the tobacco mosaic virus, but the virus is not likely to survive a burning of 900ºC. This is much possible if you roll yourself, the virus could come from the tobacco.

is cigarette smoke a mutagen?

Yes, it is a mutagen. Tobacco is a human germ-cell mutagen. There are many genotoxic effects that are smoking-associated in humans.

are cigarette filters biodegradable?

Not exactly. Cigarette butts are made of a polymer that could take 10 years to degrade if it is disposed correctly. It depends on how waste is handled in your region but, even in the best scenario, cigarette filters continue to pollute for a decade.

Citations

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cigarette
https://www.fire.nsw.gov.au/page.php?id=327
https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/langford-fire-cigarette-butts-1.5190134
https://dps.mn.gov/divisions/sfm/programs-services/Pages/fire-standards-compliant-cigarette.aspx#:~:text=%E2%80%8B%E2%80%8BA%20Fire%20Standard,ignite%20furniture%20or%20bedding%20material.
https://www.mynrma.com.au/cars-and-driving/driver-training-and-licences/resources/link-between-cigarettes-and-bushfires
https://repositorio.ufsc.br/xmlui/bitstream/handle/123456789/175134/TCC%20Bruno.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

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