What’s the News: Starting in September 2012, the FDA will require every pack of cigarettes sold in the US to be emblazoned with a large, text-and-image health warning, similar to the labels already seen in Canada, the United Kingdom, Brazil, and several other countries. The FDA unveiled the nine label designs earlier this week; several are quite graphic, including photos of cancerous lungs and lips and a man exhaling smoke through his tracheotomy hole.
These graphic images, however, may not be an effective way to get smokers to quit, or deter new smokers from starting. Several neuroscience and psychology studies show that these fear tactics have little effect—and may at times do more harm than good.
What’s the News: Scientists—and smokers—have long known that nicotine is an appetite suppressant, but just how it kept hunger at bay remained unclear. Now, researchers have uncovered the neural pathway by which nicotine reduces appetite, in a study published today in Science. This discovery could lead to new drugs that help people quit smoking or lose weight.
When Don Draper takes a long, cool drag of his cigarette on screen and fills his “Mad Men” office with smoke, does it subtly nudge you toward lighting up yourself? If you’re already a smoker, there’s a good chance. A new study forthcoming in the Journal of Neuroscience suggests that watching on-screen smoking subtly effects the brains of people who already smoke, as if it were prepping them to light up.
They chose this movie because it features lots of smoking without alcohol use, sex or violence, which could have skewed the results. The volunteers did not know the experiment was about smoking. [LiveScience]
Dylan Wagner’s team peered into the brains of 17 smokers and 17 non-smokers who watched Matchstick Men while inside an fMRI scanner.
Smoke is in the air again. Well, smoking, rather. The newest report by the Surgeon General (yes, they’re still doing those) came out this week, and the 30th installment of this institutional dispatch ratcheted up the message. It’s not just a lot of smoking that will kill you; the Surgeon General’s office is now pushing the idea that even one cigarette is one too many—serious damage can start immediately, says the report.
Thursday’s report says there’s no doubt that tobacco smoke begins poisoning immediately — as more than 7,000 chemicals in each puff rapidly spread through the body to cause cellular damage in nearly every organ. “That one puff on that cigarette could be the one that causes your heart attack,” said Surgeon General Regina Benjamin. [AP]
It’s not exactly a revelation that smoking is risky and get riskier the more you do it. However, this is the first in the long line of these reports to really press the points that have turned up in recent research, like epigenetic changes or immediate risk to the cardiovascular system.
The root of the problem is that even small amounts of the chemicals in cigarette smoke cause rapid inflammation in the endothelium, or lining, of blood vessels and in the lungs. Inflammation is increasingly blamed by researchers as a key promoter of blood vessel plaques and clots and in obstructive lung diseases like emphysema. “The evidence on the mechanisms by which smoking causes disease indicates that there is no risk-free level of exposure to tobacco smoke,” the report concludes. [WebMD Health News]
The results were so staggering that they stopped the study ahead of schedule to get the word out: A giant study by the National Cancer Institute of more than 50,000 heavy smokers has found a 20 percent reduction in deaths among patients who received a CT scan to catch potential cancer as opposed to a simple X-ray.
“This is huge,” said Dr. Reggie Munden, a University of Texas M.D. Anderson diagnostic radiologist who led the research conducted at the Houston cancer center, one of 33 sites nationally. “It’s a massive ray of hope that we can now offer a scientifically proven test to people at risk of lung cancer and pick up tumors before they’re considered lethal.” [Houston Chronicle]
Participants in the study, which began in 2002, had smoked about a pack a day for at least 30 years (or the equivalent—two packs for 15 years). They received a screening via either CT scan or X-ray three times a year. While the X-ray group lost 442 people to lung cancer, the CT group saw only 354 lung cancer deaths.
Cigarettes aren’t done causing damage when you put them out. Whether the tally of discarded butts worldwide is 4.5 trillion or 5.6 trillion, it represents an enormous amount of nicotine and heavy metals deposited in the environment. But what if the contents of your ashtray had a useful application? According to Chinese researchers, they might.
Seeking a use for all that junk, the scientists tested the chemicals in cigarette butts for their effects on a kind of steel used in oil and gas pipelines.
The results were pretty dramatic. In a near-boiling solution of 10 and 15 percent hydrochloric acid (HCl; same stuff as stomach acid), the cigarette-derived cocktail reduce corrosion by between 90 and 94 percent [Discovery News].
The researchers document their technique in the study in Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research. First, they had to soak cigarette butts they found on the side of the road in distilled water, with five butts to 100 milliliters (about 3.4 ounces) of water. That extract was then added to the HCL solution. If just five percent of the resulting solution consisted of that cigarette extract, those dramatic corrosion reductions began to appear.
If the researchers upped the strength of the acid, they needed to also increase the amount of added cigarette extract. For instance, with a 20 percent hydrochloric acid solution, the researchers needed to increase the butt leachate to 10 percent of the liquid to keep damage to the steel low: at less than 12 percent of the corrosion seen with the unamended acid solution [Science News].
Nine of the cigarette chemicals appeared to offer protective services for steel; interestingly, nicotine was the most important of the nine.
80beats: Study: “Third-Hand Smoke” Sticks Around & Produces New Carcinogens
80beats: Electronic Cigarettes Not a Safe Alternative to Conventional Cigs
80beats: In a Bad Economy, Recyclables Are Just Pieces of Junk
DISCOVER: Smoke Gets in Your Hair
Image: flickr / Nufkin
You might not be a smoker yourself, but hanging around people who are smoking can cause you to inhale noxious cigarette fumes. For years, scientists have cautioned against the ill-effects of such second-hand smoke. Now they’re warning about the dangers of “third-hand smoke”—the chemical traces that cling to a smoker, and that are left behind in a room where someone has been smoking.
A team of researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that remnants of a smoke don’t just inertly settle onto surfaces, they can react with a common gas (nitrous acid, which is emitted from gas appliances and vehicles, among other sources) to create carcinogenic compounds known as tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs) [Scientific American]. The study (pdf) was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The scientists say they have pinpointed specific DNA errors that may cause tumors in these two cancers, both of which have direct known causes—smoking for lung cancer and sun exposure for skin cancer. Researchers predict these maps will offer patients a personalized treatment option that ranges from earlier detection to the types of medication used to treat cancer. The genetic maps will also allow cancer researchers to study cells with defective DNA and produce more powerful drugs to fight the errors, according to the the study’s scientists [CNN]. News reports are heralding the new research as revolutionary, however it will be years, perhaps decades, before the full implications of the work are understood.
This year, the most prestigious medical awards in the United States have been given to two stem cell researchers, three cancer researchers, and one New York City mayor. Each year, the three prestigious Lasker Awards are given to those who have made great progress in combatting human disease, and they come with a prize of $250,000 in each category. They are sometimes called “America’s Nobels,” in part because 76 Lasker laureates have gone on to receive the Nobel Prize [USA Today].
The basic medical research prize went to John Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka; although their breakthroughs were separated by 50 years, both researchers’ work led to the current technique of turning ordinary skin cells into multipurpose stem cells. Lasker Foundation president Maria Freire explains that Gurdon’s work showed that the nucleus of every cell retains a latent ability to become any other cell type and Yamanaka showed how that capacity can be unleashed…. “These two pieces of research allow us to understand different aspects of stem cells,” she said. “I think it could lead to personalized replacement therapy to fix cells or damaged tissue” [Bloomberg].
Although electronic cigarettes have recently been marketed as a safer alternative to traditional smokes, a new analysis of 19 types of the e-cigarettes revealed that they contain toxic chemicals. The FDA has classified the devices as combination drug/medical devices, prohibiting their import, but hasn’t removed them from American shelves. Opponents of e-cigarettes hope the findings will spur the FDA to take more stringent action against the devices.
The results of the FDA’s new analysis, which were announced yesterday, revealed that although e-cigarettes don’t burn tobacco, the devices contain substances known to be toxic, such as diethylene glycol, a component of antifreeze that proved deadly when it was illegally added to toothpaste. They also contain nitrosamines, known carcinogens found in tobacco smoke. The findings, which were announced on Wednesday, contradict claims by electronic cigarette manufacturers that their products are safe alternatives to tobacco and contain little more than water vapor, nicotine and propylene glycol, which is used to create artificial smoke in theatrical productions. When heated, the liquid produces a vapor that users inhale through the battery-powered device [The New York Times].