Researchers Warn that Smoking Harms Genetic Material in Minutes

“Smoke that cigarette and you might die faster than you think!”

This is not some anti-smoking slogan trumped up to scare the tobacco users. It is in fact the findings published in Chemical Research in Toxicology, one of 38 peer-reviewed scientific journals published by the American Chemical Society.  The US National Cancer Institute funded the research that was made public on December 27, 2010, and it has come up with some very alarming data regarding the toxic effects of cigarette smoke.

According to statistics made available by CDC, more than 46 million US adults or one out of each five Americans is a cigarette smoker and about half of those who keep smoking will die because of this acquired habit. Each year about 443,000 people in the United States die from diseases and complications related to tobacco use. Smoking cigarettes kills more Americans than alcohol, car accidents, suicide, AIDS, homicide, and illegal drugs combined. Ninety percent of lung cancer deaths occur due to smoking. And the research shows just how rapidly the carcinogenic chemicals work once inhaled.

According to the report, the negative health consequences of smoking do not take a period of months or years to emerge. In fact, there are immediate harmful effects of cigarette smoking and the human body undergoes genetic damage just moments after inhaling the smoke. During the trial, the scientists focused on a particular chemical called phenanthrene.  It belongs to a group of harmful substances found in cigarettes called Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) and is believed to be a major contributing agent for lung cancer in smokers.

The study was conducted upon twelve subjects in a controlled environment to rule out interference by other sources of exposure such as air pollution or the diet. It was found that when the first cigarette is smoked, within minutes the Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons initiate a sequence in blood which results in the formation of other harmful chemicals in the body. These chemicals are ‘carcinogenic’ as well as ‘mutagenic’ which means they are capable of inducing genetic mutation. What was the most worrying aspect for the researchers was the fact that the whole process took just 15-30 minutes.

Dr Stephen Hecht from the University of Minnesota who led the research team has called this discovery a major breakthrough in investigating changes in human metabolism after PAH inhalation. The effect was so fast that it was equivalent to injecting the substance directly into the bloodstream.

For almost three decades, cigarette smoking has remained the major single cause of cancer related deaths in the United States and impacts people from all stages of life. It harms unborn babies in pregnant women who are smokers, infants and children in households where there are adult smokers, and teens, men, women and seniors who are addicted to nicotine.

The results published in this study aim to caution those who are considering taking up smoking as well as to warn those who are already addicted to this habit. The consensus among health experts is that it is never too late to give up smoking unless one wants to be among those who quit smoking only because they are dead.