Muhammad W. Ashraf, [email protected]
Publication Date: 
Wed, 2011-07-20 02:55

The cigarette is increasingly becoming a crutch for many in this pressure-laden world and they opt for this easy way out despite the hard facts of it being hazardous. It is not only them but also the people near them who sometimes pay dearly for this habit.
Studies after studies have confirmed that this is a dangerous habit, and yet another study confirms the harmful effects of cigarette.
The study revealed, cigarette smoke contains both organic and inorganic carcinogenic compounds. According to International Agency of Research on Cancer (IARC) cigarette smoke contains 4,000 identified chemical compounds and is very harmful and toxic for human health. Of these toxic materials are heavy metals, particularly cadmium and lead, which go into our system through inhalation of smoking. Several heavy metals found in tobacco smoke such as cadmium, chromium, lead and nickel also accumulate in tissues and fluids through smoking. It has been suggested by the US Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) that cigarette smoking causes approximately 440,000 premature deaths per year and is the leading cause of preventable disease in the United States.
Until recently, the consumption of tobacco products and number of smokers has been increasing steadily all over the world. Saudi Arabia has one of the largest smoking prevalence rates in the world and with a population exceeding 25 million; it is one of the top 25 highest cigarette-consuming countries. According to recent surveys, 24 percent of the Saudi population are smokers, spending a total of $1.3 billion on cigarette annually. Being the 23rd largest consumer of cigarettes, Saudi Arabia has witnessed a major anti-smoking campaign in recent years. For instance, the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah do not allow smoking. Some years ago, the state filed a $2.7 billion suit against major tobacco companies, requesting they cover expenses of treating Saudis for smoking-related diseases.
The other form of smoking is through Shisha. This is a Middle-Eastern smoking tradition that began hundreds of years before the invasion of the big cigarette companies and is one of the most common and interesting sites of the Arab world. There are numerous cafes in the cities and suburbs where you can enjoy this Arab delight. Unlike Western markets, in which where smoking rates are on the decline as a result of the many concerted initiatives aimed at reducing smoking, Saudi Arabia’s smoking population is rising. Pipe tobacco remains the dominant subcategory, which is unsurprising in light of the shisha culture that is deeply embedded across the Middle East. In an earlier report it was revealed that the overall prevalence of smoking was 21.1 percent for males and 0.9 percent for females. Most smokers (78 percent) were young to middle-aged (21–50 years old). Smoking prevalence was higher among married people, uneducated people, and among those in certain occupations: manual workers, businessmen, army officers, and office workers.
Tobacco grown in soils with higher available cadmium and lead levels has correspondingly higher levels in tobacco lamina and in the smoke particulate. Thus, cigarette brands with similar tar deliveries could yield markedly different smoke particulate levels of heavy metals depending on where the tobacco was grown and filter ventilation. Mining and industrial activities in some areas have polluted agricultural lands and irrigation water, resulting in dramatic increases in metal levels in tobacco. Because tobacco products originate from many different geographical areas, determination of metal levels has become more important. In the tobacco plantation herbicides, insecticides and fungicides are used to control the various parasites and plant diseases. Tobacco smoke, therefore, has toxic, genotoxic, and carcinogenic properties and has been linked to fatal pregnancy outcomes.
Tobacco smoking is the most important single source of cadmium exposure in the general population. Cadmium can enter the body through tobacco smoking, diet, drinking water, and inhaling it from the air. Small amounts of cadmium taken over many years may cause kidney damage and fragile bones, since cadmium is mainly stored in bone, liver and kidneys. Furthermore, cadmium causes stomach irritation, vomiting, and diarrhea. Cadmium and lead, present in tobacco smoke, contribute substantially to cancer risk. According to International Agency of Research on Cancer, cadmium is a Group I carcinogen and lead has recently been elevated from a group IIB to a Group IIA carcinogen.
Cigarette smoke contains substantial amounts of cadmium. Average cadmium levels in cigarettes range from 1,000 to 3,000 micrograms per kilogram. One pack of cigarettes deposits 2-4 micograms into the lungs of a smoker while some of the smoke passes into the air to be inhaled by smokers and nonsmokers alike.
Lead is a highly toxic metal and is capable of causing serious effects on the brain, kidneys, nervous system and red blood cell. An increase of lead level is associated with a decrease in the intelligence quotient (IQ) levels and potential behavioral problems. A survey of middle-aged men in 24 British towns showed a strong association between blood lead concentrations and alcohol and cigarette smoking. According to WHO, smoking of 20 cigarettes a day has been estimated to result in the inhalation of 1-5 micrograms lead. The WHO estimates that 2-6 percent of lead in cigarettes is inhaled by the smoker. It was reported that lead in tobacco have been associated with impaired fetal growth and brain development.
There is no sufficient data about the heavy metal concentrations in cigarette brands sold in Saudi Arabia including cadmium and lead. In a recent study, the amount of cadmium inhaled from smoking one pack of 20 cigarettes of different cigarette brands is estimated to be 1.40-2.70 micrograms. This value is comparable with the values from United Kingdom cigarettes (1.32-2.64 micrograms) and Korean cigarettes (1.54-3.08 micrograms). The small variation could be possibly attributed to cadmium soil content, type of tobacco, growth conditions, and tobacco treatment process. The amount of lead inhaled from smoking one pack of 20 cigarettes of the brands studied is estimated to be 1.98-3.37 micrograms. These results give very important information for the smokers in Saudi Arabia to know that toxic metals like cadmium and lead affect adversely on their health besides to the other toxic chemicals present in cigarettes such as nicotine.
— Dr. Muhammad Ashraf is a faculty of Environmental Chemistry at Prince Mohammad bin Fahd University, Alkhobar, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

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