By Lloyd Morgan
Arsenic, cyanide, ammonia, cadmium…They sound like part of the arsenal of some resourceful poisoner. But some people are voluntarily sucking these toxic substances into their bodies 20 times and more every day. Yes, these scary-sounding chemicals are just a few of the 4700 or so noxious components of tobacco smoke. Here’s a roundup of five of the most famous.
Arsenic is notorious as the poison of choice for aristocratic murderers in old movies. In real life too, it earned itself the sobriquet “poison of kings, and king of poisons” as a result of popularity among high society wanting to quickly and undetectably remove someone. It lost popularity when a method was found for detecting it in the body. Now it’s used as an insecticide. Around five micro grams of arsenic trioxide is inhaled with every cigarette. It takes a lot more to kill you right off but arsenic is carcinogenic at much lower levels.
A close second to arsenic in the famous poison charts is hydrogen cyanide, also known as prussic acid. It’s the chemical of choice for use in gas chambers and is used in chemical warfare. It’s found in tobacco smoke in concentration of 30-150 nanograms. Exposure to cyanide for even a short time can damage the brain and heart and lead to coma and death. Inhalation of low levels of hydrogen cyanide in the long term causes breathing difficulties, chest pain, vomiting, blood changes, headaches, and thyroid enlargement.
Now for a toxin closer to home. After cleaning your bathroom you’ve perhaps noticed the pungent acrid smell of ammonia, a prime ingredient of bathroom cleaning agents. Philip Morris began to add ammonia to tobacco in the 1960s to convert nicotine from the bound to free state. This meant that smokers absorbed this ‘free base’ nicotine more rapidly. A 1997 study revealed that Marlboro contained up to 9.6 per cent free base nicotine.
Another killer you’ll probably find in your home is cadmium. It is an ingredient of batteries, paints and pigments. It has been described as a substance having no constructive purpose in the human body. It is however a carcinogen. In addition, it can cause kidney problems. Cadmium is also an agent in respiratory tract infections and the human lung can absorb it efficiently.
The fifth of the deadly poisons we’ll discuss here is probably the worst – nicotine itself. Not only is it the prime addictive agent of tobacco but it’s one of the most virulent and quick-acting poisons known. Gram for gram it’s more deadly than strychnine. The dose absorbed through normal smoking is too low to kill outright. But the volume of nicotine in two cigarettes taken at once would result in death.
These are just a few of the insidious components of tobacco smoke. The full list seems endless – butane, nicotine, carbolic acid, collidine, formic aldehyde, lutidine, parvoline, pyridine, nickel, and lead. And the list is by no means complete.
If you want to stop poisoning your body, there is a way out. Find a way to quit that works for you. It will be the best thing you ever did.
Lloyd Morgan is a writer on health matters and a reformed smoker. For more tips to quit smoking please visit: smokefree.ampawan.com
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