ACS: Smoking cigarettes can lead to illness and death. Free radicals, which are atoms or groups of atoms with unpaired electrons, in inhaled smoke are thought to be partly responsible for making smokers sick. Now researchers report in ACS’ journal Chemical Research in Toxicology a method for measuring free radicals in cigarette smoke that could help improve our understanding of the relationship between these substances and health.
Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the
U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Understanding why is a challenge, given that cigarette smoke is a
complex mixture of more than 7,000 compounds. Much of the blame has been
placed on the 93 cigarette-related carcinogens and toxins on the U.S.
Food and Drug Administration’s list of hazardous and potentially
hazardous chemicals. But previous studies have reported that risk
assessments based on these compounds underestimate the actual number of
illnesses caused by smoking. Accounting for free radicals, which are
known to cause oxidative damage in the body, could help fill that gap.
But they are not listed on the FDA’s list and are difficult to study
because they don’t stick around for long. So John P. Richie Jr. and
colleagues wanted to find a reliable way to measure free radicals in
The researchers developed a standardized protocol for measuring free
radicals in smoke first by using a control cigarette and a technique
called electron paramagnetic resonance spectrometry. They then applied
the same protocol to 27 varieties of commercial cigarettes. The study
found that the levels of gas-phase radicals ranged widely across the
varieties while particulate-phase radicals showed less variability. An
analysis of potential factors accounting for the differences found that
highly ventilated cigarettes tended to produce lower levels of both gas-
and particulate-phase free radicals. The researchers say their method
could be used to assess people’s exposure to free radicals, which can
help determine potential health effects.
The authors acknowledge funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Center for Tobacco Products of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.