January 16, 2011
Cigarette Smoke Damages DNA Quickly

The damage starts right away.

WASHINGTON, Jan. 15, 2011 In research described as "a stark warning" to those tempted to start smoking, scientists are reporting that cigarette smoke begins to cause genetic damage within minutes not years after inhalation into the lungs.

Their report, the first human study to detail the way certain substances in tobacco cause DNA damage linked to cancer, appears in Chemical Research in Toxicology, one of 38 peer-reviewed scientific journals published by the American Chemical Society.

When I see friends smoke cigarettes it is frustrating. I see damage being done.

The scientists followed a labeled polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH - think of a bunch of carbon rings not fully saturated with hydrogens) and saw it very quickly convert into a more toxic form. The report doesn't say but I'm guessing epoxidation.

The scientists added a labeled PAH, phenanthrene, to cigarettes and tracked its fate in 12 volunteers who smoked the cigarettes. They found that phenanthrene quickly forms a toxic substance in the blood known to trash DNA, causing mutations that can cause cancer. The smokers developed maximum levels of the substance in a time frame that surprised even the researchers: Just 15-30 minutes after the volunteers finished smoking. Researchers said the effect is so fast that it's equivalent to injecting the substance directly into the bloodstream.

Do not smoke and also strongly object to second hand smoke.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 January 16 11:09 PM  Pollution Air

Alexandra Karagianni said at January 17, 2011 11:14 AM:

This is very interesting Randy! I didn't know that smoking caused so much damage, it is good to know although! Fortunately I don't smoke and neither anyone in my family.. What does second hand smoke mean?

Randall Parker said at January 17, 2011 5:59 PM:


Second hand: When others are smoking nearby. "second hand" refers to used products. So you can go to a "second hand store". So if you breathe in smoke that someone else exhaled it is second hand smoke.

random said at January 18, 2011 10:35 AM:

That's frustrating! I enjoy having a cigar once or twice a year, but apparently that's a bit like playing Russian Roulette.

Simon said at January 21, 2011 4:05 PM:

I'm annoyed by all of these studies about cigarette smoke. Whenever I hear about smoke from another source I hear that it is several times more carcinogenic than cigarette smoke.

People spend a lot of time worrying about second hand smoke outside but almost no time worrying about fireplaces, car exhausts and candle lit dinners.

This prejudice can stop people from mitigating their nicotine addiction with other methods. In my country, Australia, e-cigarettes and snus have been banned. Whilst there's a lot of evidence that smoking causes cancer there's much less for these two. Yet because tobacco is seen as uniquely bad they are banned.

If scientists wanted to spend their time burning dried spinach, I bet they'd find tons of carcinogens too.

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