Carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke

What Carbon Monoxide is

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous, colorless and odorless gas that is produced as a result of incomplete burning of carbon containing fuels. Cigarette smoke can contain high levels of CO.

What Happens When CO is Inhaled

When inhaled, CO quickly binds with hemoglobin in red blood cells in the lungs, creating COHb. This can affect the amount of hemoglobin available for the transport of oxygen throughout the body, which may in turn lead to symptoms of CO poisoning.

Symptoms of CO Poisoning

Breathing low levels of CO can cause

  • fatigue
  • increased chest pain in people with chronic heart disease

In otherwise healthy people, inhaling higher levels of carbon monoxide may cause flu like symptoms (with no fever) such as

  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • weakness
  • sleepiness
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • confusion
  • disorientation

At very high levels, exposure to carbon monoxide will cause loss of consciousness and death.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon Monoxide in Cigarette Smoke

Cigarette smoke can contain high levels of carbon monoxide, and smokers generally have COHb levels in the blood that are many times greater than those who do not smoke. Because secondhand smoke may also contain high levels of CO, nonsmokers who breathe in ETS have increased levels of CO in their blood as well.

More on the Chemicals in Cigarette Smoke

Secondhand smoke is a toxic cocktail of over 7,000 chemical compounds, 250 of which are known to be poisonous and upwards of 70 that have been identified as carcinogens.

  • Secondhand Smoke Facts
  • The Chemicals in Cigarette Smoke

Carbon Monoxide Indoors. May, 2004. American Lung Association.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Fact Sheet. 24 July, 2007. Washington State Dept. of Health.

There’s bad news for people who smoke e-cigarettes – policymic

There’s Bad News for People Who Smoke E Cigarettes Image Credit AP

E cigarettes have been getting a bad rap lately. They’re not just tacky and overpriced, say the critics, they’re actually physically dangerous. A scathing New York Times feature recently discussed how the liquid nicotine capsules used to refill them can easily poison children. And never mind their potential to, well, explode though at least they don’t cause people to melt in their chairs when they fall asleep.

But perhaps most potentially damning of all is recent data that suggests e cigarettes can still cause cancer. A new study published in Clinical Cancer Research reveals that e cig vapor affects human bronchial cells in “strikingly” similar ways to regular cigarette smoke. It can do so by causing mutations in gene expression, explains team member Avrum Spira, and the findings have prompted researchers to plan further investigation into whether affected bronchial cells will behave more like cancer cells in the future.

“They may be safer than tobacco , but our preliminary studies suggest that they may not be benign,” says Spira.

As VICE’s Meghan Neal notes, previous studies have demonstrated that nicotine alone can “promote or exacerbate” certain kinds of cancer, which doesn’t bode well for the e cig industry’s hopes to promote their product as a safe and healthy alternative to lighting up. And they may have addictive properties of their own, or at the very least fail to wean people of their nicotine dependencies. Another recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that “although 85% of smokers who used e cigarettes reported using them to quit, e cigarette users did not quit more frequently than nonusers.” In fact, U.S. “e cigarette users were less likely to have quit at 7 months than nonusers.” Their popularity among youth suggests that even if e cigarette use doesn’t lead to smoking, it can still be a habit on its own.

Unfortunately, it’s looking more and more like e cigarettes aren’t the long awaited panacea to the global tobacco industry, which kills six million people a year according to World Health Organization estimates. That’s a damn shame, because we could really use something like this to help people stop smoking. But did anyone really think vaporizing and inhaling chemicals that can easily poison you wouldn’t have some drawbacks?