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Newly discovered bacteria found in cigarettes

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Today is the great American Smokeout - a perfect time to highlight new findings that cigarettes are found to be laden with disease causing bacteria. The findings come from University of Maryland environmental health researcher and microbial ecologists at the Ecole Centrale de Lyon in France whose team found a “wide array” of bacteria in cigarettes that can harm human health.

According to Professor Amy R. Sapkota who led the research, "We were quite surprised to identify such a wide variety of human bacterial pathogens in these products. The commercially-available cigarettes that we tested were chock full of bacteria, as we had hypothesized, but we didn't think we'd find so many that are infectious in humans.”

Sapkota says the bacteria found in cigarettes are believed to survive the smoking process. If so,”then they could possibly go on to contribute to both infectious and chronic illnesses in both smokers and individuals who are exposed to environmental tobacco smoke, so it's critical that we learn more about the bacterial content of cigarettes, which are used by more than a billion people worldwide."

Some of the bacteria found in cigarettes are the type found in soil. The study is the first to show there are as many bacteria in cigarettes as there are chemicals.

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The researchers studied Camel; Kool Filter Kings; Lucky Strike Original Red; and Marlboro Red cigarettes, finding no difference in the amount and variety of bacteria in the cigarettes.

Cigarettes were found to contain bacteria that cause human infections, including those associated with blood and lung infection (Acinetobacter), a variety of bacteria related to anthrax and food borne illness (Bacillus), and Burkholderia – some of which are responsible for respiratory infections.

A bacteria that causes ten percent of hospital acquired infection in the US, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, was also found in cigarettes, along with Clostridium, and Klebsiella, both associated with respiratory, and other infection. The scientists found “hundred” of bacteria in cigarettes.

The study is the first to show that cigarettes are laden with bacteria, many of which can cause human illness. The research findings have important implications for public health.

Rather than culturing bacteria from small samples of cigarettes, the researchers used DNA microanalysis to find total amounts of bacterial genetic material, uncovering bacteria in cigarettes that could cause infection in humans. The findings that cigarettes are full of potentially harmful bacteria, known to cause disease in humans, arrive just in time for the Great American Smokeout 2009

Environmental Health Perspectives