Could Cigarette Smoking Ever Get Safer
Linda Geddes, New Scientist Magazine
Tobacco companies testing range of prototype 'safer cigarettes'
Tobacco companies have begun "clinical trials" to assess whether a range of prototype "safer cigarettes" really do slash levels of toxic
chemicals entering the body. The job of regulating any health claims firms might want to make for these cigarettes, or restricting whether
they bring such products onto the market at all, has been handed over to the
"What I hope it will do is make it harder for tobacco companies to market products without some evidence that they are likely to reduce the death and disease associated with smoking," says
However, anti-smoking campaigners question whether such products should ever find their way to market. "I would be extremely skeptical of any attempt to produce healthy cigarettes," says
Many tobacco companies across the world are already pinning their hopes of future growth on the development of so-called "potentially reduced exposure products." These include a type of powdered tobacco called snus, e-cigarettes and so-called "reduced harm" cigarettes containing lower levels of toxicants and modified filters.
Meanwhile, the prospect of having their claims vetted by government is prompting companies to devise new, more accurate ways to test the health impact of cigarettes.
Traditionally, tobacco companies look at the chemical composition of tobacco and the smoke it produces when drawn through a "smoking machine" to assess its potential for harm. But machines don't reflect the way real people smoke -- smokers often puff harder on "low-tar" cigarettes to get the same experience of smoking, for example.
"Machine measurements do not reflect what any individual, let alone a population of smokers gets from a cigarette," says
So companies are now searching for new ways to assess a person's exposure to the toxicants in smoke. The most promising approach is to look for biomarkers such as the carcinogen pyrene in body fluids like urine.
"Development of biomarkers is critical for assessment of tobacco products," says Dorothy Hatsukami of the
So far BAT has identified several biomarkers which it is using to compare the amounts of toxicants smokers get from conventional cigarettes against prototype cigarettes which have been modified to be less harmful. A pilot study looked at concentrations of nicotine metabolites and three toxicants -- NNK, acrolein and pyrene -- in the urine of 150 smokers, with 50 non-smokers as controls. It found that urine levels correlated with those in the filters of the cigarettes the volunteers smoked (Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology). This is proof of the principle that it is possible to work out from urine samples whether a potentially safer cigarette exposes smokers to lower levels of damaging chemicals.
BAT now started a trial in which 250 smokers are either given conventional cigarettes, prototype cigarettes, or asked to quit smoking. The study will compare the levels of biomarkers in urine to see whether people smoking modified cigarettes are exposed to lower levels of toxicants or not.
Meanwhile, U.S. tobacco giant
Can we trust such claims?
"If they come up with a biomarker of risk or exposure I think we'd be silly not to be extremely interested in it," Eissenberg says. "But we would have to independently verify it -- simply because there isn't the level of trust for us to accept that."
Even if that happens, researchers will then have to correlate how levels of exposure, as measured through biomarkers, relate to the risk of developing smoking-related diseases. To work this out will mean running longer-term trials in which smokers of conventional and reduced-risk products are followed to see how many them go on to become ill.
It's not simply a matter of tobacco companies proving that their cigarettes reduce the risk of cancer, says Hatsukami.
"You don't want a product that decreases your risk of cancer but increases your risk of pulmonary disease." What's needed are biomarkers for a wide range of diseases, she says.
What everyone does agree on is the need for some kind of regulation.
Eissenberg points out that there may be another, more cynical reason to give tobacco companies a second chance.
"I think that there are some very smart people in the tobacco industry who have realized that if their customer base lives until they're 80 instead of dying when they're 60, then they're going to make a lot more money," he says.
A GUIDE TO CIGARETTE ALTERNATIVES
Reduced toxicant cigarettes
Several tobacco companies are creating cigarettes with a combination of modified filters and new blends of tobacco in the hope of lowering amounts of carcinogens and other toxicants per unit of tar.
Electronics company Ruyan of
Long-favored by Scandinavians seeking a nicotine fix, snus is a moist form of powdered tobacco, which releases nicotine when placed under the upper lip. Advocates believe snus could provide a safer alternative to cigarettes if smokers can be persuaded to switch, although its sale is banned in many countries, including much of
Warning: Although less dangerous than smoking, several studies have suggested that snus use increases the risk of mouth and pancreatic cancer.
Effectiveness of Laser Spine Surgery for Pain Relief Remains Unproven
H. Gordon Deen, M.D., Neurosurgery, Mayo Clinic
Spine surgery can be performed using several different tools, including a laser. Laser spine surgery has been around since the 1980s but it has never been studied in a controlled clinical trial to determine its effectiveness. Most neurosurgeons don't use lasers for spine surgery because there are no clear benefits to laser surgery over more well-established spine surgery techniques
Atril Fibrillation Treatment Involves Reducing Risk of Stroke
Stephen Hammill, M.D., Cardiovascular Diseases, Mayo Clinic
Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heart rhythm that involves the upper heart chambers (atria). During an episode of atrial fibrillation, the atria beat out of rhythm very quickly, up to 400 beats per minute. Fortunately, this rapid rate is slowed to about 70 to 150 beats per minute as the impulse travels to the lower chambers, the ventricles, which then pump blood to the body. The episode may last minutes to several days and individuals with atrial fibrillation should seek medical care promptly.
Surgery Not Only Option for Treating Spinal Stenosis
Mark Dekutoski, M.D., Orthopedic Surgery
Spinal stenosis is a common condition that results from changes to the spine as aging occurs. Symptoms vary in character and magnitude but can most often be effectively treated with nonsurgical therapies, such as medication and physical therapy. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary.
Managing Blood Pressure Crucial for Those With Aortic Dissection
Thoralf Sundt, M.D., Cardiovascular Surgery, Mayo Clinic
Aortic dissection, a tear in the inner layer of the aorta causes the inner and middle layers to separate, sometimes affecting the entire length of the aorta. Aortic dissection is the result of a weakness in the aortic wall. It's serious because the aorta, the largest artery in the body, is the main conduit of oxygenated blood from the heart.
Hybrid Hearts for Transplant: Could Stem Cells Solve Rejection Problems
Andy Coghlan, New Scientist Magazine
Human organs for transplant are scarce. One option is to engineer organs from scratch in the lab, using artificial scaffolds. While bladders and skin can be grown in the lab, growing more complex organs and their intricate blood-vessel networks, has proved tricky.
Finding Effective Treatment For Chronic Pain
January W. Payne
Chronic pain is a problem that -- when healthcare, lost income, and lost productivity are taken into account -- is estimated to cost about $100 billion in the United States each year. More than a quarter of Americans age 20 or older, or about 76.5 million people, say they've experienced pain that lasted longer than 24 hours
Cholesterol - 10 Ways to Lower LDL and Raise HDL
January W. Payne
Your doctor tells you that your level of LDL -- the 'bad' type of cholesterol -- is too high, and, in a double whammy, he says that your level of HDL -- the 'good' cholesterol--is too low. Is there anything you can do to decrease the bad while increasing the good? There are steps you can take to accomplish this.
Principles of Conservative Prescribing: Do You Really Need All Those Pills
Harvard Health Letter
People who genuinely need medications should take them; indeed, getting people to take medications as prescribed is a persistent problem. But there's some questioning of prescribing practices these days, much of it inspired by a growing conviction that American health care has become too dependent on expensive medications.
Weight Loss Drugs & Diet Pills Have Many Drawbacks
Mary Pickett, M.D.
I wish we had a diet pill that could help people lose weight easily. None of the medicines on the market are worth using, if you ask me
Health, Nutrition & Diet: Getting Out the Gluten
Harvard Health Letters
Gluten seems to be the food ingredient non grata these days. Bakers are coming up with recipes for gluten-free cupcakes and baguettes. Anheuser-Busch sells Redbridge, a gluten-free beer made from sorghum. By some estimates, the sales of gluten-free foods have tripled since 2004. Gluten-free food has become more popular partly because doctors are diagnosing more cases of celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder whose symptoms are triggered by gluten, the protein content in wheat, barley, rye ...
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