Worms and Bugs in Cigarettes

Cigarette beetles measure only 2-3 mm and thrive in the warm, humid conditions in which cigarettes are stored.

Cigarette beetles measure only 2-3 mm and thrive in the warm, humid conditions in which cigarettes are stored.

As an agricultural product, tobacco is fairly unclean and can be full of surprises. You can wash fruits and vegetables before you eat them, but you can’t wash off your cigarettes before you smoke them. Smokers have blissfully little information about the weird things that can find their way into cigarettes, at least until some of them come crawling out.

If you want to do something fun, go to the the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library and search on the words “worms complaints” and “bugs complaints.” The search on “worms complaints” alone returns over 1,300 documents. The results of these searches are always interesting. For example, one customer wrote to the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (RJR) complaining that “These cigarettes are full of worms.”  An RJR internal memo says worms and bugs in cigarettes was the #3 complaint to RJR in 1983. In another, rather calm handwritten letter, a smoker tells RJR that he “noticed a parade of bugs” streaming out of his newly-purchased pack of Doral full-flavored cigarettes. The customer wrote,

“…as the pack lay on my table, I suddenly noticed a parade of bugs exiting the pack. They resembled an ant with pincer claws…What was up with that?”

An alarmed smoker wrote to RJR in 1996 to say she found find live bugs crawling out of her cigarette filters. She wrote,

“I am very concerned and devistated [sic] over the fact that I smoked these bugs. I am also afraid and sickened that these bugs are crawling out of the filters and I may have ingested them.”

The customer then told RJR that she fumigated her home after finding bugs crawling out of her cigarette pack, and expressed her displeasure at the cavalier manner in which she believes the company handled her complaint. The customer was actually upset to find that R.J. Reynolds was so unconcerned about her health:

“I am very concerned if there are any dangers from smoking or injesting [sic] these bugs… I am very upset on how this issue was handled through your so called supervisors. They showed no concern when I explained that these bugs could be in my house and in my body. You would think that they would put a rush on this situation but I was told it would take 2 weeks to receive the mailer [to return the cigarettes to the factory] and 5 weeks to examine the cigarettes. There were no concerns that this could be a health risk to me and my family.”

These are among the many letters that appear in the tobacco industry’s document files from smokers complaining that they found worms, bugs and bug larvae in their cigarettes and expressing concern about ingesting them.

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