When a smoker inhales a puff of cigarette smoke the large surface area of the lungs allows nicotine to pass into the blood stream almost immediately. It is this nicotine “hit” that smokers crave, but there is a lot more to cigarette smoke than just nicotine. In fact, there are more than 4000 chemical substances that make up cigarette smoke and many of them are toxic.
- Arsenic – Arsenic is a heavy metal toxin than can kill quickly if consumed in large amounts. Also small, long-term exposure to arsenic can lead to death. Studies have linked prolonged exposure to arsenic with cancer, diabetes, and thickening of the skin, liver disease, problems with the digestive system, nervous system disorders and hearing difficulties.
- Benzene – Long-term exposure to high levels of benzene in the air can cause leukemia. The major effect of benzene from long-term exposure is on the blood. Benzene causes harmful effects on the bone marrow and can cause a decrease in red blood cells, leading to anemia. It can also cause excessive bleeding and can affect the immune system, increasing the chance for infection. Some women exposed to benzene develop irregular menstrual periods and a decrease in the size of their ovaries. Animal studies have shown low birth weights, delayed bone formation, and bone marrow damage when pregnant animals breathed benzene.
- Beryllium – Acute exposure to beryllium fumes can cause a severe, sometimes fatal pneumonitis (or inflammation of the lungs). Chronic overexposure to beryllium is more common and causes a diffuse inflammatory reaction in the lungs resulting in granulomas (small nodular area of inflammation) and fibrosis of the lungs (thickening of the lung tissue leading decreased lung volumes and shortness of breath).
- Cadmium – cadmium is a known human carcinogens (cancer generating compounds).The general population is exposed from breathing cigarette smoke or eating cadmium contaminated foods. Breathing high levels of cadmium can severely damage the lungs. Eating food or drinking water with very high levels severely irritates the stomach, leading to vomiting and diarrhea. Long-term exposure cadmium in air, food, or water leads to a buildup of cadmium in the kidneys and possible kidney disease. Other long-term effects are lung damage and fragile bones.
- Chromium – The acute toxicity of chromium(VI) is due to its strong oxidational properties. After it reaches the blood stream, it damages the kidneys, the liver and blood cells through oxidation reactions. Hemolysis (rupture of red blood cells), renal and liver failure are the results of these damages. An actual investigation into hexavalent chromium release into drinking water was used as the plot-basis of the motion picture “Erin Brockovich.”
- Ethylene oxide – Ethylene oxide is very toxic even in small concentrations. In August 2000 during an accident in Taiwan full-face respirators with ethylene oxide approved canisters could not protect workers who smelled the odor and were exposed to an unknown concentration. The workers experienced nausea, vomiting, chest tightness, shortness of breath, dizziness, cough and ocular irritation. One worker had transient loss of consciousness.
- Nickel – A fatal case of nickel poisoning was reported for a 2 -year-old girl who had ingested nickel sulfate (Daldrup et al. 1983). The cause of death was cardiac arrest. Death due Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) was reported for a worker spraying nickel using a thermal arc process (Rendall et al. 1994). Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, headache, cough, shortness of breath, and giddiness were reported for workers of an electroplating plant who drank water contaminated with Nickel (Sunderman et al. 1988).
- Polonium-210 – Polonium-210 is regarded as one of the most dangerous substances known because it ejects alpha-particles, which are helium nuclei, and these wreak havoc with every organ of the body in which the polonium resides. Inside a living cell alpha-particles can trigger cancer by damaging DNA. In theory, a mere microgram (or millionth of a gram) of polonium-210, which is no larger than a spec of dust, would deliver a fatal dose of radiation. Polonium-210 is reported to have caused the fatal poisoning of former Russian spy, Alexander Litvinenko.
- Vinyl chloride – Exposure to very high levels of vinyl chloride is deadly. Breathing vinyl chloride causes dizziness, sleepiness, and even unconsciousness. Other effects are lung irritation, trouble breathing, ulcers, stomach bleeding and an irregular heartbeat. Vinyl chloride is a known cancer-causing substance. It can cause cancer of the liver. It also increases the risk of cancer of the lung, brain, central nervous system and lymph system.
All of the above chemicals are taken into your lungs along with the nicotine and are absorbed into your blood stream almost immediately with each puff of smoke. Definitely something to think about. By the way the lung specimen that looks like it was dipped in ink is a smoker’s lung.
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