Safer cigarettes possible?

7 March, 2008

It has been common knowledge for a long time that smoking causes lung cancer, but what exactly in the cigarette smoke caused the dreaded disease was not known.

Now, a study has found that the hydrogen peroxide (or a similar oxidant) in cigarette smoke is what makes healthy lung cells cancerous.

Researchers from the University of California at Davis, the United States, say that their findings could lead to new treatments for lung cancer and might help the tobacco industry in developing "safer” cigarettes by eliminating cancer-causing substances in the smoke.

The findings appear in the March 2008 issue of The FASEB Journal, published by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

In the laboratory study, the researchers at the University of California at Davis exposed different sets of human lung cells to cigarette smoke or hydrogen peroxide and then incubated the cells for one to two days. The cells were then compared to unexposed airway cells.

While the cells exposed to cigarette smoke and those exposed to hydrogen peroxide showed the same molecular signatures of cancer development, the unexposed cells showed no such changes.

The media quoted Dr Gerald Weissmann, editor-in-chief of The FASEB Journal, as remarking in a statement, "Guns kill, bombs kill and cigarettes kill. While biologists can’t do much about the first two, studies like this will help in the fight against tobacco-related death and disease. These experiments not only pinpoint new molecular targets for cancer treatment but also identify culprits in cigarette smoke that eventually will do the smoker in.”

Cigarette smoking, which causes over 400,000 deaths a year in the United States (about 1 in 5 of all deaths), is the leading preventable cause of premature death in the country, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Smoking is the culprit in 90% of all lung cancer deaths in men and about 80% of lung cancer deaths in women.

According to a report released by the United States Surgeon-General in 2000, tobacco smoke contains over 4,000 chemical compounds, including 43 that are known to cause cancer.




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