A reason to quit: polonium 210 ‘in cigarettes’

There are thousands of hidden chemicals in cigarettes. Pic: Phil Wilkinson
There are thousands of hidden chemicals in cigarettes. Pic: Phil Wilkinson
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NAIL varnish remover, battery components and even the stuff used to preserve dead bodies are not usually high on the list of tasty morsels to tuck in to.

Yet every time a smoker lights up a cigarette, an array of thousands of different chemicals start swishing their way around the body, many used in the production of unlikely household goods.

Smoke Free Lothian

Smoke Free Lothian

A rare radioactive substance, known as polonium-210 - famously linked to the death of Russian ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko - even makes the cut, sitting merrily alongside its buddies - arsenic and cyanide. All things that, in big enough doses, make light work of poisoning people.

Hardly surprising then that health chiefs are relentlessly keen to encourage people to quit, vastly improving their own well-being while reducing the millions smoking related illnesses are costing the local NHS each year.

“Most people will know one of the main problems can be lung cancer but obviously it can contribute to lots of other diseases. A lot of that is linked to the various chemicals that are released when a cigarette burn which releases about 4,000 chemicals and at least 69 of those are known to cause cancer,” explains Joyce Mowbray, a stop smoking nurse practitioner for NHS Lothian.

“There’s lead which we know has been banned from petrol for many years because of the health risk but is one of the poisons found in tobacco smoke. Another one is cadmium, a highly poisonous metal that’s used in batteries and acetone, which is a solvent commonly found in nail varnish remover.”

Carbon dioxide is responsible for causing a lot of damage kicking oxygen out of the blood and subsequently reducing the supply to every organ in the body. It’s another silent killer that occasionally makes the headlines when it leaks from a boiler but smokers routinely let it occupy up to 15 per cent of their blood, often leading to coronary heart disease and circulation problems.

Research shows anyone smoking 25-a-day is 25 times more likely to die from lung cancer than non-smokers with four out of five of lung cancer deaths are attributed to smoking. This is in addition to the one in six heart disease deaths and nearly one in 10 stroke deaths attributed to the habit.

The majority of people with peripheral vascular disease, which can result in one or both legs being amputated, are also smokers so for the health benefits alone, there is good reason to quit. And it’s never too late, Joyce says, with thousands successfully taking the plunge every year

“It affects the whole body from head to toe and putting 4,000 chemicals in your body every day, means that for most people, smoking will catch up with you at some point in your life. You’re never too old to quit - I’ve just helped an 83-year-old lady to successfully quit smoking and she wishes she’d done it years ago.”