Are you a polytobacco user?

September 1, 2010 by  
Filed under ADDICTION

Cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco products. Anti-smoking campaigns are mainly targeting cigarettes. But there are other tobacco products out there that are as bad or even worse. And when different products are combined together, the health effects can be disastrous. According to data from the 2008 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), use of cigarettes combined with other forms of tobacco, called polytobacco use, results in higher nicotine addiction and even increased risk tobacco-related health problems, such as stroke, heart disease, and tobacco-related cancers. In addition, using multiple forms of tobacco and nicotine products actually makes quitting more difficult.

According to Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

“The more types of tobacco products people use, the greater their risk for many diseases caused by tobacco, such as cancer and heart disease.”

Examples of these tobacco products are:

  • Cigars
  • Pipes
  • Bidis, a South Asian cigarette wrapped in a leaf
  • Kreteks, a cigarette made with tobacco, clove sand other flavors which is very popular in Asia

Statistics on polytobacco users are as follows:

  • men (4.4 percent)
  • single people (4.8 percent)
  • young adults ages 18-24 years (5.7 percent)
  • household incomes less than $35,000 (9.8 percent)

The report was based on a study that covered 13 states in the US. Some of the key findings of the study are:

Nicotine-free smokes: how safe are they?

August 9, 2010 by  

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:

“Smoke from cigarettes that do not contain tobacco and nicotine is inducing DNA damage in cells to an even greater extent than smoke from standard cigarettes.”

In recent years, many “safe smoke” alternatives that supposed also help overcome smoking addiction have been brought to the market, such as

  • e-cigarettes
  • 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.

US cigarettes top in carcinogen content

June 22, 2010 by  
Filed under CANCER

What’s so different about American cigarettes compared to say, European cigarettes? Is it the price, the taste, the packaging? No! It is the amount of carcinogens. Yes, Americans are actually getting more of the bad stuff for their money. American cigarettes reportedly have more cancer-causing compounds than cigarettes manufactured and sold in the UK, Canada and Australia.

This is according to a study by researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The results were published in the June issue of Cancer Epidemiology.

The ingredients and the manufacturing process of cigarettes vary from one manufacturer to another and from one country to another. Just how varied these can be was investigated by this study. The researchers wrote:

“Seventeen eligible cigarette brands (between 3 and 5 brands from each country) were selected on the basis of national sales and nicotine yield to identify popular brands with a range of ventilation … [how much air is mixed in with the smoke from the cigarette as it is inhaled].”

The researchers looked at 126 smokers and performed in-depth analysis of their urine and saliva as well as their cigarette butts. Nicotine, tobacco-specific nitrosamines or TSNAs (4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone (NNK) and NNAL which is the breakdown product of NNK in the body were analyzed. According to Dr. Jim Pirkle who heads the CDC lab which measures levels of chemicals in people’s bodies using a mass spectrometer:

“All of these cigarettes contain harmful levels of carcinogens, but these findings show that amounts of tobacco-specific nitrosamines differ from country to country, and U.S. brands are the highest in the study.”

The study results showed:

  • NNAL levels in the urine of American smokers are much higher than levels of smoker from Canada or Australia.
  • The “American blend” tobacco in US cigarettes contains more TSNAs than tobacco used in the comparator countries.
  • Australian and Canadian smokers get more nicotine from their cigarettes than UK and US smokers. However, they still get lower TSNAs than the Americans.


Some the brands tested are:

Now, before you head for the Canadian border to shop for “less dangerous” smokes there, make sure you check what the Customs requirements are.  The easiest solution, of course, is quitting.

Curcumin can block cancer-inducing nicotine

October 7, 2009 by  
Filed under CANCER

CurcuminTurmeric-powderThose who are from Asia know curcumin (also known as curcuma)  – how it looks, how it smells, how it tastes. It is the compound that makes curry the yellow or red curry that we know. Aside from its use in culinary arts, curcumin also has some medicinal properties.

In a new study presented at the 2009 American Academy of Otolaryngology Meeting in San Diego, Ca., researchers tested curcumin in the lab. The compound was able to block the action of nicotine that activates cancer cells that cause neck and head cancer.

Smoking cigarettes is one big risk factor of neck and head cancer. Nicotine is not only addictive, it possesses cancer-forming properties. Every year 40,000 new cases of head and neck cancer in the US and 500,000 new cases worldwide are being reported.

Curcumin is one of most promising phytochemical candidates that can help block the carcinogenic effects of nicotine. It is a safe, bioactive food compound that could be used not only as a chemopreventive agent. Other studies have also observed that curcumin has tumor-suppression properties. It also is reported to have anti-inflammatory properties. Aside from cancer, it is also a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders.

Curcumin comes from the turmeric plant (Curcuma longa) which is a member of the ginger family. Over the centuries, it has been used in Asia, especially India as spice and food flavouring. Other information about curcumin from

Photo credit: wikicommons

Are you a social smoker?

September 10, 2009 by  
Filed under ADDICTION

smokeThey don’t consider themselves as smokers. They only smoke at social occasions – parties, bars, etc. They think they can quit anytime.  They also tend to smoke only with the company of others rather than alone. They are the social smokers.

And it seems that the numbers of social smokers  are increasing.

Many people believe an occasional cigarette – not necessarily everyday – can do no harm. In these days when non-smoking legislation is the rule rather than the exception, many people have tried to cut down on smoking and only smoke when it is socially appropriate – even necessary.

However, it is known that nicotine dependence affects individuals differently. There are those who are easily “hooked” but there are those who treat smoking as an occasional indulgence – “like eating too much ice cream” says one social smoker.  Some social smokers claim they can go without cigarette for weeks, then indulge on a pack on a weekend with friends. And that it is a thing that they can put down anytime.

But how common is social smoking?

 Social smoking is considered to be “a pattern of social behavior that is poorly understood.” And while smoking in general is on the decline, social smoking seems to be on the rise. A government survey showed that social smokers increased by 40% between 1998 and 2001, especially in young people.

Social smoking seems to be common among college students. Researchers at Harvard did a survey of over 10,000 college students in 119 American colleges in 2001 and reported that more 2,000 of those surveyed were smokers and 51% of these consider themselves as social smokers. What is interesting about the results are that social smoking was independently associated with

  • Low smoking frequency
  • Low intensity of tobacco use
  • Less nicotine dependence


  • Less attempts to quit
  • Less intention to quit

The results suggest that social smoking among college students “represent a stage in the uptake of smoking”.

So why is social smoking becoming popular?

Some the reasons may be:

  • Increased awareness of health risks of smoking to the smoker. But can an occasional cigarette damage our health? Well, health experts believe there is no safe level for smoking.
  • Increased awareness  of health risks to others (second-hand and third-hand smoking). Some parents, for example, would smoke only socially outside of the home to protect their children.
  • Increased anti-smoking legislations

Can social smokers quit?

Some claim that social smokers are just low level addicts “not hooked on nicotine, just smoking.”

University of California researcher Rebecca Schane believes social smokers can quit. She noticed that anti-cessation therapies are only available to daily smokers. However, social smokers are motivated to quit when they realized that they are a nuisance to others. In other words, they respond to the social pressure. Says Schane

“If you tell a social smoker that their smoking has a negative effect on the people around them, they get very concerned about that.”

The promises and threats of e-cigarettes

March 18, 2009 by  
Filed under ADDICTION

Can cigarettes ever be healthy? The manufacturers and distributors of e-cigarettes claim that this latest import from China called “e-cig” is the healthiest alternative to real cigarettes that you can ever have. It is said to have the following advantages (Source: The official site of electronic cigarette smoking):

  • E-cig has no fire, no tar, no carbon monoxide, no ash, no stub. The CEO of Smoking Everywhere tells CNN that e-cig does not contain any of the substances that cause cancer.
  • It lets you enjoy those tactile taste sensations without the risks associated with smoking and tobacco.
  • You can smoke e-cig without polluting the environment or passing on second hand smoke, thus circumventing the anti-smoking bans in bars and restaurants.
  • It can help you to quit nicotine without giving up the smoking habits.” It supposedly works just like a nicotine patch does but with the satisfaction of the oral fixation.
  • E-cig even comes in different colors and different flavours.

Many people however are wary and sceptical about the product for the following reasons:

  • E-cig hasn’t been tested on humans and no safety data, short-term as well as long-term are available. The claims of manufacturers of e-cig being safe and healthy are actually not supported by scientific evidence.
  • E-cigs come in no less than 30 different flavours ranging from strawberry to chocolate to peppermint. The candy-like falors can be confusing for children especially those that do not resemble cigarettes and can prove lethal when ingested. It can also send the wrong message to adolescents, luring them to try “healthy smoking.”
  • It puts to test current smoking legislations in place, from anti-smoking bans to minimum age limit or purchase and possession of cigarettes.
  • Its claims of helping people to quit smoking are suspect. In fact, it can actually worsen the nicotine habit.

How does an e-cig work?

Basically an e-cig consists of 3 parts: an atomization chamber, a nicotine cartridge (the mouthpiece), and a lithium battery. When it is turned on, the tip of e-cig glows, the liquid nicotine is vaporized with propylene glycol and the vapour is released at the other end into the smoker’s mouth.

What do the health authorities have to say?

In September last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) ordered that unproven therapy claims of e-cigs should be stopped. “The electronic cigarette is not a proven nicotine replacement therapy.” Some countries have declared e-cigs as illegal.

Currently, the US FDA is “hazy” about e-cigs, according to CNN. The regulatory body is not sure how to classify e-cig – as a device or as a drug. “The FDA is trying to halt importation of e-cigs, but isn’t seizing products already being sold in the United States“, says CNN.


Nicotine and cancers (yes, that’s a plural)

November 25, 2008 by  
Filed under CANCER

The direct link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer is well-established. But what about other types of cancer?

Nicotine is one of the major components of tobacco and can be found in high concentrations in the blood and the urine of cigarette smokers. Although not considered a full-blown carcinogen that promotes tumor development, it is however suspected to have a growth-enhancing effect on existing cancer cells. This post looks at recent research on the link between nicotine and different types of cancer.

Nicotine and breast cancer

This study published in Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research suggests that nicotine can have a potentiating role in tumor development. The researchers demonstrated through a series of lab test

“… that breast epithelial-like MCF10A cells and cancerous MCF7 cells both express several subunits of nAChR (nicotine receptor), that when bound, initiate a signaling process, potentially increasing cell growth and migration.”

As a carcinogen, nicotine does not seem to act alone but rather combines with other carcinogens with disastrous effect. According to the researchers, “…nicotine, possibly through perturbing cell cycle checkpoints, potentiates tumorigenesis in mammary cancer-prone or cancer cells.”

Aside from promoting the development of breast cancer, nicotine as a cocarcinogen is also linked to the spread of cancer through tumor migration from the breast to other organs.

Nicotine and bladder cancer

In another study, Taiwanese researchers observed that nicotine can de detected in significant quantities in the urine of cigarette smokers. The study aimed to investigate “whether there is nicotine-induced bladder epithelial cell proliferation and to identify the signaling transduction pathway regulated by nicotine.” The results suggested that nicotine exposure is a major risk factor for bladder cancer.

Nicotine and apoptosis

Apoptosis is a process wherein our body destroys unwanted cells. It is sometimes called “programmed cell death” and is protective mechanism that can protect us from cells that might potentially turn harmful (e.g. cancerous). Several studies suggest that nicotine may have some adverse effect on apoptosis. This recent study by Stanford University researchers showed that continued smoking during cancer treatment can lead to resistance to chemotherapy among lung cancer patients due to the anti-apoptotic effect of nicotine.

Nicotine in the gastrointestinal tract

This study by Chinese researchers show that nicotine can have some “aggravatory effect on … gastric mucosa injury” induced by the bacteria Helicobacter pylori, one of the major causes of gastric ulcers.

Nicotine effect on different human cancer cells

This study by researchers at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute tested the effect of nicotine on different types of human cancer cells. The results show that aside from an inductive effect on lung cancer cell lines, it also induced proliferation of and invasion by breast and pancreatic cancer cells.

Photo credit: stock.xchng

Why Is Cigarette Smoking Habit Forming?

March 10, 2008 by  
Filed under ADDICTION

Nicotine is one of the most well known components of inhaled cigarette smoke. But is it addictive? Yes and no. The details that make clear that paradoxical statement are interesting.

Nicotine itself is not addictive. But then, neither is heroin. It’s what the body does with that compound that produces the result. Think that’s quibbling over words? Read on…

The average cigarette delivers between 1.2 – 2.9 mg of nicotine, according to data from the National Institute of Drug Abuse. But, of course, very few smokers limit themselves to one per day. The average one pack-per-day user will absorb between 20-40 mg per day. That may not sound like much, but the effects are considerable.

Nicotine stimulates regions of the brain in the area of the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland. Big words, but important ones. These areas play a large role in the endocrine system, the part of the body that regulates hormones.

Small doses of nicotine produce alertness, making cigarette smoke a stimulant. Larger doses act more like a sedative. So the impetus for smoking to become a habit is two-fold: cigarettes both stimulate and relax.

They do that by producing several effects.

Many drugs can’t penetrate the blood-brain barrier, the system that selectively allows only certain molecules into the brain. But nicotine manages to indirectly defeat that protective function. Nicotine increases the levels of endorphins, the well-known ‘runners high’ compounds.

It also affects the availability of dopamine in the brain, which is responsible to a large degree for the positive feelings associated with smoking. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in the brain associated with reinforcing desirable behavior. Signals are sent that say ‘smoking is pleasurable’. Unfortunately, it doesn’t send signals that inform the smoker that ‘smoking is also harmful’.

In addition, nicotine stimulates the adrenal glands. That causes them to release the hormone named after them, adrenaline. That in turn causes a spike in glucose levels, leading to increased respiration and heart rate, raising blood pressure.

Within limits, those latter effects are perceived as desirable. That’s the stimulating effect. But at the same time, over time, that result can wear arteries more rapidly than they otherwise would. Along with other compounds like carbon monoxide, CO, which tends to produce fatty deposits and harden vessels, the arteries are ‘aged’. They’re less effective at their purpose: delivering blood.

Nicotine has other effects on the body.

It suppresses insulin release from the pancreas. That hormone plays a critical role in regulating glucose. Excess glucose in the blood encourages the development of diabetes. Cigarette smoking doesn’t directly cause diabetes, but it slightly ups the odds. Combined with a statistical increase in obesity in many countries, upping the odds isn’t helpful.

Reducing the regular dosage of nicotine by reducing or quitting smoking, reverses many of the perceived pleasurable effects. As a result, quitting is more difficult. But using willpower, patches and other stop-smoking methods means keeping in mind that ‘long-term harmful’ outweighs ‘short-term pleasurable’ by any rational calculation.

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.