If you’ve ever come across an old pack of cigarettes with one or two left in the carton, you’ve probably wondered this at some point. Do cigarettes actually expire? How long will my cigarettes be good for? What will happen if I smoke an expired cigarette? We’ll answer all of these questions today, plus tell you how to decipher production codes to find out when your cigarettes were manufactured.

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Do cigarettes have an expiration date?

No, cigarettes do not have an expiration date printed on them. In fact, the World Health Organization recommends that tobacco packaging should not be allowed to list an expiration date because this leads consumers to believe that it’s “safe” to consume the product before the expiry date. Obviously, smoking cigarettes has inherent risks that can not be negated by smoking within their “best by” period.

However, just because cigarettes don’t contain an expiration date on their packaging doesn’t mean they’ll never go bad. While smoking expired cigarettes isn’t really any worse for you than smoking new ones, time and oxygen exposure can negatively impact the flavor and freshness of your cigarettes.

What happens when cigarettes go bad?

Cigarettes don’t really expire, so much as they become extremely stale. When cigarettes are exposed to air, moisture is allowed to escape from the resins and oils used during manufacturing. Fluctuations in humidity can also change the burn pattern of the cigarette wrapper, possibly making them burn faster.

When a cigarette loses its moisture and becomes stale, the tobacco tastes very different. Stale cigarettes usually taste very unpleasant, menthol cigarettes even more so. Once opened and exposed to air, commercial cigarettes usually last about two days before going stale.

There are a few different ways to tell if your cigarettes are stale. The most obvious way is to smoke one and look out for any unpleasant flavor or difficulty with airflow. If you don’t want to risk smoking a stale cigarette, you can also look for visual signs of staleness. Roll the cigarette between your fingers, and see if any tobacco pours out of the end. This is a sign of staleness.

Another indicator of stale cigarettes is the smell. Place a cigarette under your nose and inhale. Fresh cigarettes will usually smell like sweet raisins and any characterizing flavors of the cigarette (for example, menthol cigarettes may smell like mint). If the smell is plain, papery, or dull, your cigarettes have likely expired.

How to tell the age of a pack of cigarettes

Unfortunately, the tobacco industry doesn’t list an expiration date on their products, so it’s difficult to know when the pack of cigarettes you’re buying was produced. Occasionally, you’ll buy a pack that’s been sitting on the shelf for years, and they’ll be stale before you even open them. However, there are ways to avoid this, to make sure you’re buying the freshest packs possible.

The tobacco industry uses a variety of internal codes to label cigarettes. To the untrained eye, these codes may just look like a bunch of random numbers and letters. However, these labels can actually tell you where the cigarettes were made, what additives they contain, and what type of tobaccos were blended to make the pack. These codes can also tell you when your cigarettes were produced and packaged.

You can find out the age of your cigarettes by checking the production code. Many companies use what is called a Julian Date Code. This is usually a six or seven-digit number. The first three numbers represent the actual day of the year the cigarettes were manufactured. For example, if the first three digits read 144, that means the pack was produced on May 24th, the 144th day of the year.

The next two digits indicate the year produced. If the next two digits read 20, the cigarettes were produced in 2020. There may be more numbers following the first five, but these usually refer to the shift they were made on, which doesn’t really affect the age of your cigarettes.

Conclusion

People choose to smoke cigarettes for a variety of different reasons. No matter what those reasons are, if you’re choosing to smoke, you want your cigarettes to be fresh-tasting and pleasant. While cigarettes don’t expire like traditional food, they do go stale. By learning how to tell when cigarettes have gone bad and how to decipher production codes, you can make sure the cigarettes you’re smoking are as fresh as possible.

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