Smoking can produce cancer causing chemicals in the body within 15 minutes of smoking a cigarette according to research from the University of Minnesota.
The research, which was funded by the U.S. National Cancer Institute and published in Chemical Research in Toxicology, identified a substance that can damage DNA and lead to the formation of cancer cells just 15 to 30 minutes after the subjects smoked a single cigarette.
What Did the Study Show?
The study monitored levels of PAH, or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, in the bodies of twelve subjects after they smoked a cigarette. When PAH is absorbed into the body, it is converted into another substance which is known to damage DNA, leading to the development of various cancers.
Lead researcher Professor Stephen Hecht believes that the breakthrough study was the first to monitor PAH metabolism into cancer causing chemicals in humans after smoking.
In all of the twelve subjects, the PAH from the cigarette they smoked was converted into a cancer causing substance within 15 to 30 minutes. This means that the very first cigarette you ever smoke, and any individual cigarette thereafter, could begin to cause the development of cancer in around a quarter of an hour.
Martin Dockrell, the director of policy and research at ASH, Action on Smoking and Health, hopes that this will dissuade people from starting smoking. He suggests “almost everybody knows that smoking can cause lung cancer. The chilling thing about this research is that it shows just how early the very first stages of that process begin – not in 30 years but within 30 minutes of a single cigarette for every subject in the study.”
The Risks of Occasional Smoking
Almost a third of smokers smoke fewer than 10 cigarettes a day and many people believe that light or occasional smoking doesn’t bring the same risks as heavy smoking. Along with many others, this study aims to show that even smoking a single cigarette can have a major impact on our health.
UK specialist Dr Michael Apple explains that when it comes to heart disease, the majority of the risk comes with the first cigarette of the day. “Next time you light up, feel your pulse. It will start rising within a minute. That’s extra work for your heart, which gets less blood supply because of nicotine. Your blood tends to clot more with each cigarette, and the amount of oxygen it can carry goes down. Instead of oxygen the blood cells carry carbon monoxide.” He explains that this all increases the risk of heart disease.
A study of almost 45,000 subjects in Norway in 2005 discovered that people who smoked up to five cigarettes a day were three times more likely to die of heart disease than non smokers. It also showed that smoking once a day trebles the risk of developing lung, mouth, throat, bladder and pancreatic cancer.
While it is true that the risks increase the more you smoke, the impact of just a single cigarette is very significant, so preventing people from starting to smoke is just as important, if not even more so, than encouraging people to quit.