With the irrevocable proof that smoking is bad for our health and causes cancer, people are searching for safer smoking alternatives, products with reduced toxicity or nicotine-free. But are the so-called “safe smokes” really safe?
An example of what is touted as safe smokes are the tobacco and nicotine free (T&N-free) cigarettes such as those made from non-tobacco leaves, flowers and herbal extracts.
For example, smoking iceberg lettuce is being advertised as a healthy and safe smoke that can help smokers quit smoking.
Lettuce is a vegetable that is healthy when eaten. But is it safe when dried, lighted up, smoked and inhaled? The supporters of lettuce smoking think it is a safe smoke because lettuce does not contain nicotine. A study by researchers at University of Minnesota indicated that some T&N-free cigarettes help in quitting.
“The study, which appeared in the journal Addiction, showed that people who used the nicotine-free cigarettes before quitting were just as likely to be smoke-free after six weeks as those who used the lozenges.”
Some T&N-free cigarettes still contain minute amounts of nicotine – 0.05 mg per cigarette, whereas the so-called low-nicotine cigarettes contain six times as much (0.3 mg). This helps in the gradual weaning off nicotine.
But are they safe?
Researchers at the Brander Cancer Research Institute and Department of Pathology at the New York Medical College conducted a research on health effects of nicotine-free cigarettes using laser scanning cytometry (LSC) technology
Their results showed smoking T&N-free cigarettes can cause genetic damage such as double-strand DNA breaks (DSBs). DSBs are potentially carcinogenic and present similar or even more serious hazards as smoking cigarettes with tobacco and nicotine.
According to senior study author Professor Zbigniew Darzynkiewicz:
In recent years, many “safe smoke” alternatives that supposed also help overcome smoking addiction have been brought to the market, such as
- chewing tobacco and snuff
- nicotine replacement products
E-cigs and snuff are not as healthy as they are purported to be and nicotine patches and gums come with a lot of side effects.
Still, the search for cigarettes with reduced toxicity and health hazards continues.
Professor Darzynkiewicz gives a very simple advice: avoid smoke, from cigarettes of any type and from other sources.