Smoking causes damage in minutes…not years

As reported here on the BBC Health website, a new U.S. NCI-funded study looks at how fast the body starts making carcinogenic compounds after inhaling cigarette smoke.

The report, published in Chemical Research in Toxicology, shows that cancer-causing chemicals appear in the bloodstream within 15 to 30 minutes after smoking.

Small bit of biochemistry here: Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) are some of chemicals that cause lung cancer in smokers. PAH’s require activation by the body to exert their carcinogenic effects. One activation pathway is the conversion to a nasty compound called a “diol epoxide”, which is what then causes DNA mutations and starts the cancer formation.

So, the researchers let 12 subjects light up a cigarette laced with a stable PAH (called phenanthrene), and checked their blood to see when the converted diol epoxide would appear. Bad news: the cancerous compound was seen right away, at high doses, at the very first blood draw, 15-30 minutes after smoking.

Obviously, this should be pretty chilling news for smokers, and even more incentive to quit. Damage from smoking starts immediately.

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