Cigarette smoking can lead to illness and death. Free radicals, which are atoms or groups of atoms with unpaired electrons, in inhaled smoke are thought to be partly responsible for making smokers sick.
Now researchers from Penn State College of Medicine and College of Agricultural Sciences report a method for measuring free radicals in cigarette smoke that could help improve our understanding of the relationship between these substances and health.
John Richie, professor of public health sciences and pharmacology is lead investigator. The study, "Variation in Free Radical Yields from U.S. Marketed Cigarettes" appears in the American Chemical Society's (ACS) journal, Chemical Research in Toxicology.
But previous studies have reported that risk assessments based on these compounds underestimate the actual number of illnesses caused by smoking. Accounting for free radicals, which are known to cause oxidative damage in the body, could help fill that gap. But they are not listed on the FDA's list and are difficult to study because they don't stick around for long. So Richie and colleagues wanted to find a reliable way to measure free radicals in cigarette smoke.
The researchers developed a standardized protocol for measuring free radicals in smoke first by using a control cigarette and a technique called electron paramagnetic resonance spectrometry. They then applied the same protocol to 27 varieties of commercial cigarettes.
The study found that the levels of gas-phase radicals ranged widely across the varieties while particulate-phase radicals showed less variability. An analysis of potential factors accounting for the differences found that highly ventilated cigarettes tended to produce lower levels of both gas- and particulate-phase free radicals. The researchers say their method could be used to assess people's exposure to free radicals and help determine potential health effects.