How much tobacco is harmful

Tobacco smoke - a poisonous mixture with many carcinogenic substances

Tobacco smoke contains around 5,300 chemical substances, of which around 250 are toxic and 90 are "carcinogenic" or at least "possibly carcinogenic". Additives that initially appear harmless harbor further dangers, as they can be converted into harmful substances during the combustion process. For example, the carcinogenic substances acetaldehyde and formaldehyde are produced when sugar burns in tobacco. This is added to cigarettes as an additive in order to create a softer taste of the tobacco smoke through the caramelization with ammonia.

The substances contained in tobacco smoke interact with one another and thereby intensify in many cases. A limit value up to which the consumption of cigarettes is harmless cannot be defined due to the high toxicity of tobacco smoke. In a British study[1]it has been shown, for example, that just one cigarette a day increases the risk of a heart attack.

When a cigarette burns, its components burn up at temperatures of 500 to 950 degrees Celsius. This creates two types of smoke: mainstream smoke and sidestream smoke.

Different poison concentrations in mainstream smoke and sidestream smoke.

The main stream smoke forms on the cigarette when it is puffed. The smoke that arises between puffs is called sidestream smoke. Both forms are made up of the same ingredients, but in different concentrations. Many toxins are found in higher concentrations in sidestream smoke than in mainstream smoke. For example, the proportion of carbon monoxide is twice as high. Other poisons, such as benzene, cadmium, lead, etc., are also more concentrated in the sidestream smoke. Its particles are also smaller and can therefore more easily penetrate into the most distant alveoli (pulmonary alveoli) and be deposited there.

Addictive substance nicotine

Nicotine is the main active ingredient in cigarette smoke and is very addictive. Nicotine can have both stimulating and relaxing effects, and it also activates the reward system in the brain. It only takes a few seconds for the effects to set in in the brain - hence the high risk of addiction. Nicotine is a strong poison and can be used for pest control, among other things. Even 60 milligrams of nicotine would be fatal for an adult. The limit is significantly lower for small children: if a small child swallows a cigarette, for example, there is a mortal danger.

Smokers get used to nicotine very quickly. This process is enhanced by the association of smoking with certain behaviors (e.g. smoking while making a phone call, smoking after eating, smoking in stressful situations).

Tar - sticky and carcinogenic

Tar is created when tobacco is burned. It contains carcinogenic substances and is hardly retained by the cigarette filter. It sticks together the cilia in the lungs, which have an important task: they clean the air we breathe, tar and other substances in tobacco smoke make this task considerably more difficult. Coughing is a typical defense reaction used to get rid of tar and other foreign objects.

Carbon monoxide as fatigue

Carbon monoxide is an odorless and poisonous gas that is produced when tobacco is burned. Even the cigarette filter does not prevent carbon monoxide from being absorbed.

In the bloodstream, carbon monoxide binds to the red blood cells. These have the task of transporting the oxygen to the organs, which is more difficult for them due to the accumulated carbon monoxide. The oxygen content in the blood decreases as a result and the body has a poorer supply of oxygen. . To counteract this effect and to supply the organs with more oxygen, blood pressure and pulse rate increase. This leads to reduced performance during physical exertion such as work and sport and increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Many ingredients increase the risk of cancer

Carcinogenic substances in tobacco smoke include formaldehyde, benzene and nitrosamines. Their carcinogenic effect is increased by other components such as acetaldehyde and ammonia. These substances attack the cilia in the airways, which are supposed to filter and remove foreign substances. In this way, cancer-causing particles stay longer in the lungs and can cause more damage there.

Some cancers are caused almost entirely by smoking. Lung cancer, cancer of the oral cavity, larynx and bronchial tubes result in up to 90 percent of cases from tobacco consumption. But cancer of the nose and throat, liver and pancreatic cancer, cancer of the kidney and urinary bladder as well as breast and cervical cancer and certain forms of leukemia can be triggered by smoking.

[1]Hackshaw Allan, Morris Joan K, Boniface Sadie, Tang Jin-Ling, Milenković Dušan. Low cigarette consumption and risk of coronary heart disease and stroke: meta-analysis of 141 cohort studies in 55 study reports BMJ 2018; 360: j5855Tobacco Atlas Germany, German Cancer Research Center Heidelberg, 2nd edition 2015