Arsenic–There’s no old lace here
Arsenic is a poisonous chemical element well known for being toxic. We can find arsenic naturally occurring in the earth’s crust as well as in groundwater, soil, air and food as arsenic is absorbed by plants as well as inhaled by animals in the form of atmospheric gasses, mineral dust or in cigarette smoke.
Arsenic has properties of being metallic and non-metallic and has a variety of forms and compounds. It can bond with elements like carbon and hydrogen to form organic arsenic as well as oxygen, sulphur and other elements to form inorganic arsenic. Organic arsenic is less harmful than inorganic arsenic and it is inorganic arsenic is what we’re talking about when discussing how dangerous the arsenic content of cigarettes can be.
We know that low levels of arsenic can be found in many things including water and food as well as the air we breathe. And, as long as the levels are low enough, it doesn’t do any harm to our bodies. The problem is the effect of long term exposure as well as when the amount of arsenic we’re routinely exposed to gets higher. Cigarette smoke is one of the ways we increase our exposure to arsenic.
Exposure to higher levels of arsenic can cause cardiovascular disease as well as inhibiting metabolic functions, leading to death as a result of organ failure. Long term exposure to arsenic has been linked to cancer of the bladder and kidneys as well as the liver, prostate, skin, lungs and nasal cavity. If arsenic poisoning is detected in time there are treatments to prevent organ failure, but the long term effects of arsenic exposure are harder to treat.
Arsenic, Smoke and Cancer
Inorganic arsenic, the more harmful form of this poisonous element, is present in tobacco smoke. Arsenic from smoking can remain in the air for days after being released, affecting the air quality, especially in indoor environments.
Research has shown that smokers absorb around 0.8 micrograms of inorganic arsenic into their body for every pack of twenty cigarettes they smoke. This amount of arsenic might not seem like a huge amount, and indeed smoking is not the biggest source of arsenic exposure in our day to day lives, but arsenic is a toxic element that increases the risk of developing cancer and other deadly diseases. We should avoid elevating our levels of arsenic whenever possible, as well as the hundreds of other dangerous chemicals found in cigarette smoke.
Arsenic has been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a Group 1 carcinogen. Group 1 refers to substances where there is conclusive evidence to prove that exposure over time can cause cancer in humans. Inorganic arsenic, the kind found in cigarette smoke has a greater cancer risk than organic arsenic.
Exposure to arsenic is linked to several forms of cancer, including liver, prostate and lung cancer. Arsenic is excreted from the body in urine which results in increased risk of bladder and kidney cancer. And the risk of skin cancer from exposure to arsenic is affected by the levels of arsenic in the air and groundwater as well as smoking.
Arsenic and Cardiovascular Disease
Cardiovascular disease is one of the ways that arsenic and cigarettes smoke both affect the health of a smoker. Exposure to higher levels of arsenic increases the risk of cardiovascular disease which affects the heart and blood vessels and can lead to death. Smoking also increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and when the two are combined this risk is greatly magnified.
Cardiovascular disease is one of the biggest causes of death in the world and it is estimated that 90% of the disease is preventable. The combination of smoking and exposure to arsenic through environmental factors results in mortality rates higher than either factor alone. So, cutting out both is the best way to decrease your chances of developing cardiovascular disease, but cutting out either one makes a big difference.
Quitting smoking is estimated to reduce the risk of developing deadly cardiovascular disease by 35% making it the best way to reduce the risk. Other factors like exercise, diet and lower levels of arsenic in drinking water all help, but quitting smoking still makes the biggest difference.
The arsenic found in cigarettes comes from a couple of different sources. Like other plants, tobacco takes in arsenic from the soil, but tobacco crops are also sprayed with pesticides continuing higher levels of arsenic. This arsenic remains in the leaves when they are processed, becoming part of the cigarette.
Sources of Arsenic Exposure
Arsenic becomes more harmful in higher quantities, increasing the risks of cancer, cardiovascular disease and organ failure. Smoking is just one way that we’re exposed to arsenic, other sources include food and groundwater as well as in the air and soil. Inorganic arsenic, the kind found in cigarettes poses a higher health risk than organic arsenic.
Many of us will be exposed to arsenic through the food we eat, while other environmental factors like soil, groundwater and dust in the air will vary around the world. Although, depending on your diet and how frequently you smoke, cigarettes can make a significant impact on arsenic exposure.
Arsenic is part of the cocktail of harmful chemicals found in cigarette smoke and although it is found in relatively low levels it can contribute to arsenic exposure which is associated with a number of health problems. Inorganic arsenic, the kind found in cigarettes smoke, is linked to organ failure and cancer of the bladder, kidneys, liver, prostate, skin, lungs and nasal cavity. Both smoking and environmental exposure to arsenic increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and together they increaser this risk dramatically.