If you thought Chinese "herbal" cigarettes are safe, here's the update. These ciggies, which contain a mix of tobacco and medicinal herbs, are just as unhealthy as the regular ones.
A team of researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, led by Stanton A. Glantz, professor of medicine in the Department of Medicine and Cardiovascular Research Institute and scientists at the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention, analysed the levels of four markers to establish differences in nicotine and carcinogen delivery between the two type of cigarettes.
The research was carried out in a Chinese city where 135 smokers of herbal cigarettes were compared to 143 people who took "regular" tobacco cigarettes.
The examination of the urine samples and evaluating questionnaires showed no major difference in the levels of all four markers: cotinine and trans-3'-hydroxycotinine (two markers of nicotine intake); and total 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-butanol and total polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (two classes of carcinogens).
Glantz said: "Levels of carcinogens were correlated with measures of nicotine intake, meaning that the more nicotine smokers took in, the higher the levels of carcinogens they took in."
Moreover, 47percent of the volunteers had only switched to herbal cigarettes due to their "better taste;" 24percent switched owing to their health concerns and the belief that herbal cigarettes were healthier than regular ones. In fact, those smoking herbal cigarettes smoked more cigarettes in a day.
"Adding herbs to the cigarettes would not be expected to affect the nicotine, which is the addictive drug in tobacco, and cancer-causing chemicals in the smoke of cigarettes...The Chinese tobacco industry should avoid misleading the public when promoting herbal cigarettes as 'safer' products," Glantz said.
He added: "The public needs to be aware that herbal cigarettes do not deliver fewer carcinogens...We hope our findings will help to dispel the myth that they are a safer alternative to conventional cigarettes; they are not."
The findings of the study have appeared in the December issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.