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Comparative Toxicology of Cigarette Smoke and Automobile Exhaust

BY: Sonali Bhawsar | Category: Toxicology | Submitted: 2011-03-01 05:46:59
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Article Summary: "Cigarette smoke contains approximately 5000 chemical compounds and at least 90 of them are known carcinogens. It is complex mixture of ethylene oxide, acrylonitrile, benzene, acetaldehyde, arsenic compounds, ammonia, formaldehyde, beryllium, furan, sulfur compounds, nitrogen oxides, isoprene, hydrazine, lead, nitromethane, carbo.."

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Comparative toxicology of cigarette smoke and automobile exhaust

It is hard to believe that cigarette and automobile have comparable characteristics. The worst thing what I found while searching for hazardous companion for cigarette was that there is nothing as hazardous as cigarette smoke (CS). CS contains approximately 5000 chemical compounds and at least 90 of them are known carcinogens. Automobile exhaust (AE) was chosen from a big list of dangerous chemicals contained in pesticides, industrial effluents or spent wash; in which maximum number of comparable parameters are present. Both CS and AE are indoor and outdoor pollutants.

CS is complex mixture of ethylene oxide, acrylonitrile, benzene, acetaldehyde, arsenic compounds, ammonia, formaldehyde, beryllium, furan, sulfur compounds, nitrogen oxides, isoprene, hydrazine, lead, nitromethane, carbon monoxide, polonium, tar, toluidine, vinyl chloride, N-nitroso derivatives like nitrosoorcinicotine and 50 different polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). You must be known that cigarette is made up of ground tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) leaves. Nicotine is active principle component of tobacco; a cigarette contains 10mg of nicotine. Chemically, nicotine is an alkaloid and also used as pesticide. When cigarette is lit, nicotine reaches brain in less than 7 seconds and 1mg is delivered into the smoker's body via blood. Vomiting, sweating, palpitation, seizures, stomach cramps, acidity, drooling, pallor and nausea are some of the common signs of nicotine poisoning found in non-smokers including children. Similar symptoms are also observed in farmers using nicotine as pesticide and tobacco harvesters. In smokers, toxic effects like diarrohea, salivation, vomiting, nausea, mental confusion, impairment sense of taste and smell, weakness and dizziness are observed on acute exposure. Fatal toxicity is indicated by decreased blood pressure, irregular pulse, breathing difficulty, convulsions, lack of concentration, polycythemia, respiratory failure and death. Smoking habit in pregnant women results in fatal fetal toxicity such as decreased birth weight and attention deficit disorder. Nicotine withdrawal symptoms are also very nauseating like impatient and restless behavior, irritability, weight gain and chronic depression. Smokeless tobacco causes nonfunctional reproductive system, Raynaud's syndrome, heart disease, mouth ulcers, gum disease and nicotine addiction. Thus nicotine in CS is potent carcinogen and adverse psychostimulant. It is more toxic than cocaine; toxicity analysis in experimental rats showed that LD50 of nicotine was 50mg while that of cocaine was only 5mg/kg.

AE is generated by combustion of fuels such as diesel, petrol, coal, natural gas or kerosene used in automobiles. It is discharged into the atmosphere via exhaust pipe of automobile. Typically, an AE contains carbon dioxide, carbon, monoxide, nitrogen, nitrogen oxides, ammonia, hydrogen, formaldehyde, hydrocarbons and PAHs, sulfur, sulfur oxides, lead derivatives, tar, ozone, unused oxygen, water vapor and particulate matter in the form of soot. These constituents are hazardous to health of plants, animals and human beings and also to environment. Formation of photochemical smog, plant damage, acid rain, pulmonary irritation, eye irritation, anemia, odema and lung cancer are some of the toxic effects of AE.

The effect of 3 common constituents, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and PAHs in CS and AE is reviewed in following paragraph. Formaldehyde is carcinogenic chemical. Inhalation of vapors causes watery eyes, burning sensation in throat, irritation of nasal membrane, difficulty in breathing, and it is known to aggravate the symptoms of asthma. Carbon monoxide (CO) is tasteless, odorless, colorless, nonirritating, difficult to detect and hence a silent killer gas. CS and AE contain nearly 5% and 1% CO respectively; in CS, sometimes greater than 5%. CO combines with hemoglobin in blood forming very stable carboxyhemoglobin resulting in diminished oxygen supply, polycythemia and rapid blood clot. Approximately 30 minutes of exposure to CO is considered lethal to generate toxic effects like vertigo, sequelae, hypoxia, memory loss, depression, central nervous system and heart dysfunction and death. PAHs are apparently useless chemicals generated during incomplete combustion. They can be found in any environment like soil, water, air or human body. They don't dissolve in water and hence are persistent recalcitrant compounds. PAHs such as pyrene, fluorene, chrystene, benzofluoranthene, naphthalene and acenaphthalene are the constituents of CS and AE. Their health hazards include asthma, heart attack, pulmonary diseases and odema. Severity of toxicity is dependent upon dose, exposure time and route of entry.

To summarize, both CS and AE increase the chances of developing Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, CS is 10 times more potent air pollutant than AE, CS is 50 times more responsible for heart disease and lung cancer and the risk of illness and death resulting from CS is more than AE. Simply to mention, unlike smoking, AE is not a habit hard to quit but a manmade source of pollution; therefore easy to monitor and control.

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Comments on this article: (8 comments so far)

Comment By Comment
Fran Fetzner
2011-09-22 12:44:03 217
Thanks for this information. Driving home today with my husband on a beautiful September day (72 degrees, sunny, in the Great Lakes area) my husband rolled up his window and turned on the air conditioner. I asked why on such a beatufil day would he need the air conditioning turned on. He said the exhaust from the road made him sick. I asked how could it be any worse than the cigarette smoke from his cigarettes? He said oh it sure was. I have stopped asking him to quit but sometimes it is just so obvious that smoking is dangerous. So thanks for this article because it helped to remember that I am not crazy and gave me something to hand to my husband to read, even though it is a waste of time.
Sonali Bhawsar - Author
2011-09-23 23:36:42 218
Relax Fran, you are very caring wife and everything would be fine and do not worry! Thanks a lot to both of you for reading this article!!!
2012-10-16 16:08:04 336
Although the smoke from cigarette smoking may be 50 time more harmful than auto exhaust, you most agree, they are both extremely hazzardess. However, if every person in my neighborhood were to burn a carton of cigarettes every 10 minutes for the next hundred years, it would not equal the amount of auto exhaust fumes that is exhausted into the air in one day. Since the air is so polluted from auto fumes, that appears to me to be more likely to be causing the mass medical problems that were pointed out in your article. Of course, the gov't will not go after fosil fuels because of the dollars that oil companies give to our politicians. Although not a smoker, I,m sick of seeing the propaganda that point in a single direction and infringes on my liberty to choose. As always, it boils down to money and politics. Basic logic alway will prevail. Risk and reward is for me to decide, not politicians or gov't. Further, additive to food, chemicals given to live stock, fertilizers, medicines, leaching of chemicals from carpets to glaze on dinnerware, cleaning fluids, etc.; and the list goes on. Even electronics give off radiation that is harmful. It's time to stop the B.S. and accept the world today. If the risk is bigger than the reward, people will reject the product. That, by the way, is called the evolution of a product.
Sonali Bhawsar - Author
2012-10-17 03:09:05 337
Dear Kim,rnrnYour comments are realistic and very thoughtful and I agree with you. My actual idea of writing this comparison between cigarette smoke and automobile exhaust is to induce awareness among people (smokers/nonsmokers) about very useless thing like smoking. I am trying to suggest that level of hazardous nature of cigarette smoke is only comparable to Automobile exhaust and nothing else. Thank you for reading this article and sharing your valuable thought.
Fab March
2016-03-30 17:04:56 1055
Hi Sonali:rnI'm a male 62 years old, recently Dx with Parkinson's Disease (PD).rnYour article is upmost interesting.rnEpydemiologic studies have pointed to the fact that smokers are statistically less likely to develop PD. How can this be explained?rnAfter my Dx I passed a lot of time thinking about the risk factors in my whole life that can be culprits in triggering my illness.rnI recently discovered a leak in my car's exhaust system, an I calculated an average of 1 hour daily exposition to those exhaust fumes for the last 8 years (fumes entering the cabin with open windows in traffic jams). I'm an occasional heavy smoker too (ON and OFF in time). Wondering which of the two possible culprits (CS or AE) may have triggered my condition.rnWhat do you think?rnBest regards and thank you for you very interesting article.rnFabrn...
Sonali Bhawsar - Author
2016-04-13 09:19:19 1059
Respected Sir, As title itself suggests that both cigarette and automobile smokes are comparable with respect to their toxicity. I suggest to stay away from both to lead a healthy life ahead. Practice yoga and have prescribed medicines; both can repair the loss done by PD or smokes. Thanks for your praises and i am glad that the article was helpful. Regards and best of wishes.
2017-05-31 01:25:13 1230
hi if anyone could put i in a more realistic comparison e.g how many cs=ae to go to the shops or further in kilometres or litres of fuel to account for the cs 5% to ae 1%
Sonali Bhawsar - Author
2017-06-21 04:03:18 1242
It would be interesting calculation.

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