nos-trum. pronunciation: \nos'-trum\. noun. Etymology: Latin, neuter of noster our, ours.
1. a medicine of secret composition recommended by its preparer but usually without scientific proof of its effectiveness.
2. a usually questionable remedy or scheme.
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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Scaring Ourselves: "Smoke One Cigarette And You Die."

A new study shows that damage from cancer-causing chemicals in cigarette smoking can be detected "immediately" after smoking your first cigarette.  And?

Am I the only one who has always thought that the cancer-causing chemicals were there from the beginning?  And it takes 30 years of damaging cells to result in cancer?

The research is being hyped as showing something startling.  "Smoking 'causes damage in minutes', US experts claim" is the news title (BBC News, Jan 15).
"Scientists involved in the small-scale study described the results as a stark warning to people considering smoking.  Anti-smoking charity Ash described the research as "chilling" and as a warning that it is never too early to quit."
Some background:  polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) in tobacco are thought to be among the agents that cause lung cancer.  PAH was added to cigarettes that the experimental subjects smoked.  This allowed them to trace the additive as it was metabolized to a chemical that damages DNA.  The altered carcinogen was measurable 15-30 minutes after smoking.

This result is being hyped as showing that damage occurs immediately.  OK, that's what I always thought.

Damage becomes cancer only when it can't be repaired or deleted.  Our bodies do a pretty decent job of this on a daily basis; our cells get damaged all the time.  But the health-restoring process of removing damaged cells can be overwhelmed, exhausted, or destroyed.  When that occurs the cancer cells can then go their own way, and develop into a tumor.

So, this research (Clinical Research in Toxicology, Dec 27) is interesting by virtue of documenting that the damage to cells begins immediately, confirming what was always expected.

But it's not a breakthrough that undermines the belief that you can smoke without harm for decades before, suddenly, it causes cancer.  Most of us were aware it's harmful to even start smoking.

If there are people who think that smoking is not harmful initially, I'm surprised.

I'm not sure that I'm being clear.  It just bothers me when the media and advocacy groups, well-intentioned though they may be, try to create a sense of previously unknown imminent danger that can't be inferred from the research.  It's scare tactics.

Just say it's harmful to smoke at all, or ever.  And don't start.

Doc D

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