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Do Cigarettes Expire? No, But Here’s Why Old Cigarettes Are So Dangerous

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If you’re a smoker, you’ve probably wondered at some point: Do cigarettes expire? 

For instance, maybe you’ve run out of cigarettes, and you found an old carton with one or two sticks inside. Or, you’re a “light” smoker, and you’re wondering how long you can keep your cigarettes before they go bad. And what will happen if you smoke an expired cigarette? We share answers below.

What’s the shelf life of cigarettes?

cigarette pack

A brand-new, unopened pack of cigarettes will originally stay fresh for around two years after production. The moment you break that air-tight seal, however, the cigarettes immediately undergo certain changes, no matter how soon or late it is after the production date.

The World Health Organization vs. Cigarette Expiration Date

Another reason why it’s hard to identify stale packs is that expiration dates are not usually listed on most cigarette packaging. According to the World Health Organization, printing expiration dates on tobacco packaging makes it seem like cigarettes are “safe” to smoke before that date. 

However, some packages do include the manufacturing date and/or the best before date in lieu of an expiration date.

To be clear: “Fresh” cigarettes are not safer than stale ones. The hazards are the same whether they expire or not, and it includes everything from cancer to skin problems, fertility issues, and IBS.

Now, just because cigarette packaging doesn’t indicate an expiration date doesn’t mean they’ll never go bad. Old cigarettes are no worse for you than brand-new ones, but exposure to oxygen and time will affect both their flavor and freshness.

How to find the production date on a pack of cigarettes?

To find out how old your cigarettes are, look for the production date instead of the expiration date. Here’s how:

  • Find the “Julian Date Code,” or a six-to-seven digit number on the pack.
  • The first three numbers refer to the day they were manufactured. So if the first three digits read 200, then they were manufactured on July 19.
  • The next two digits refer to the year. So if that’s “21,” then the pack was manufactured in 2021.

From there, it will be easier to determine if your cigarette is about to expire, or if they are still fresh.

So, Do Cigarettes Expire? No, But…

cigarettes

Technically, cigarettes don’t expire. However, they do get incredibly stale over time, especially when the pack is exposed to air. 

According to this Quora user, an opened pack of commercial cigarettes has around two days before they start going stale. 

Right after production, cigarettes and tobacco contain oils and resins that give it moisture and freshness. Oxygen exposure forces out that moisture, which in turn makes the cigarettes expire, or go stale.

In addition, it can also alter the tobacco paper’s burn pattern. This is why stale cigarettes usually burn out faster than new ones.

So no, cigarettes don’t have an expiration date, but the quality severely degrades over time.

How to Tell if a Cigarette is Expired

dirty cigarettes

The easiest (and riskiest) way to identify a stale cigarette is to try it. You’ll notice a couple of things:

  • Stale cigarettes taste very unpleasant. Menthols, specifically, will have a really sharp taste.
  • They feel harsher than fresh cigarettes, which can result in difficulty inhaling and exhaling the smoke.

Don’t want to risk smoking stale tobacco? Check these signs:

  • Brown or yellow spots

Old cigarettes are often dotted with dark brown or yellow spots, which comes from moisture and oils leaching out of the tobacco

  • Dull smell

Stale cigarettes will smell papery, plain, or otherwise will not leave a very strong impression

  • Tobacco falling out

Due to decreased moisture, the tobacco inside a stale cigarette will dry out; roll one between your fingers and if pieces of tobacco fall out, it’s very likely expired

Why It’s Dangerous to Smoke Expired Cigarettes

man smoking

Just because you can light up stale cigarettes, doesn’t mean you should. In fact, you’re putting yourself in danger.

Tobacco, which is what’s inside cigarettes, is made of dried leaves.

As a result, expired cigarettes have a tendency to grow mold or fungus, especially when they’re stored in a place without proper temperature control, or which has constant humidity fluctuations.

What Happens When You Smoke Moldy Cigarettes:

  • Expired cigarettes can cause coughing and other symptoms

If you’re in perfect health, smoking a moldy stick may not have any lasting negative effects. At the very least, you may experience unpleasant symptoms like vomiting, nausea, and coughing.

  • Expired cigarettes can cause inflammation of the lungs and sinuses

If you’re allergic to mold, however, the hazards are much more serious. For instance, it can cause your lungs and/or sinuses to get inflamed. Symptoms include sinus drainage and pain, mild to severe congestion, and wheezing.

  • Expired cigarettes can lead to lung infections or worse

Finally, if you have lung conditions or a compromised immune system, inhaling smoke from a moldy cigarette can be life-threatening. 

For instance, certain types of fungi like Cryptococcus, Aspergillus, and Mucor can trigger deadly lung infections. They can also infect the brain and the central nervous system.

Unfortunately, many smokers already have weak lungs and immune systems due to the effects of smoking. It only takes one moldy, expired cigarette to put your life and health in danger. 

Worse, it’s almost impossible to tell if a cigarette already contains fungus just by looking at it. By the time you’ve noticed the symptoms, you’ve already inhaled the mold into your system.

What to Do With Your Expired Cigarettes

expired cigarette pack

First, we recommend throwing them out. Don’t try to smoke them to check for freshness, so you don’t put yourself in harm’s way.

In addition, consider getting help for your smoking habit.

The willingness to try a potentially expired cigarette is a red flag for a smoking addiction. And even if you consider yourself a light smoker, nicotine and cigarettes are a hard habit to break:

  • The first symptoms of a nicotine addiction begins after a few cigarettes.
  • Even new smokers, or those who’ve only been smoking for a few weeks, will experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop smoking or reduce the number of cigarettes they smoke.
  • In 2015, a survey found that only 7% of smokers were successful in quitting the habit for 6 to 12 months.

Quitting is hard, but it’s not impossible, particularly with the help of a hypnosis app. In fact, studies have found hypnosis as one of the most effective methods for quitting smoking, compared to traditional methods like nicotine patches.

FAQs

Do cigarettes expire?

Cigarettes don’t really expire, but they do go stale. However, a cigarette that’s exposed to air will dry out, degrade in quality, and can even develop mold and other types of fungus. 

Is it safe to smoke an expired cigarette?

No, it’s dangerous to try and smoke a potentially expired cigarette. Aside from the inherent dangers of smoking, you also risk inhaling mold spores if the cigarette has developed them already.

What are the signs of an expired cigarette?

An expired cigarette will taste unpleasant, feel harsh when you inhale the smoke, and will have loose tobacco versus a fresh one.

I want to stop smoking. How do I start?

Download a hypnosis app, and simply follow the guided program. It’s a convenient way to manage cravings (such as when you see an expired cigarette and get an urge to smoke it!) You can also track your progress, listen to hypnosis audios on the go, and many more.

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