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CDC Finds American Cigarettes Higher In Cancer-Causing Nitrosamines


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has researched the most popular brands of cigarettes and found that many of those made in the United States have up to three times higher levels of nitrosamines, a major cancer-causing agent.

The research included data from 126 smokers in the US, Canada, UK, and Australia. Seventeen eligible cigarette brands were selected based on national sales. American specific brands used in the study included Marlboro, Marlboro Menthol, Newport, Newport Light, and Camel Light. Levels of tobacco-specific nitrosamine (TSNA) were measured from the cigarette butts smoked to assess the level of exposure. Saliva and urine samples were collected to measure the amount absorbed by the smoker’s body in a 24-hour period.

"People smoking the U.S. brand cigarettes [we tested] received a level of this carcinogen in their mouth and lungs that was three times higher compared to smokers in Canada and Australia," says Dr. James Pirkle, deputy director for science at the CDC's National Center for Environmental Health.

Approximately 90% of the 300 nitrosamine compounds that have been tested are thought to be carcinogenic, particularly in that of the liver and stomach. These chemicals are found in products such as cured meats, rubber products, certain cosmetics, pesticides, and tobacco products. Tobacco-specific nitrosamine chemicals include NNK and NNAL.

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According to the study, American-blend cigarettes contain “burley tobacco”, which has higher levels of TSNA’s. Overseas brands of cigarettes are made using “bright” tobacco, which is lighter in color, and different curing processes which cause the cigarettes to be lower in nitrosamines.

Dr. John Spangler, director of tobacco intervention programs at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine warns American smokers not to switch brands based on this study, "People might think that by switching brands, they will improve their health outcomes," he says, but it's too early in the research to know whether this might the case.”

"Tobacco smoke contains about 4,000 chemicals," he continues, and while lowering carcinogens is likely a step in the right direction, this would not improve "your risk for other tobacco-related diseases [such as] heart disease, stroke, emphysema and many other[s]."

"As of today, there is not cigarette on the market that public health organizations endorse as offering 'reduced risk,'" says David Sutton, spokesman for Philip Morris USA, so "if smokers are concerned about the risks of cigarette smoking, the best thing to do is quit."

The World Health Organization says 5 million people die every year from tobacco-related heart attacks, strokes and cancers. Another 430,000 adults die annually from breathing second-hand smoke.

Source reference:
Ashley D, et al "Effect of differing levels of tobacco-specific nitrosamines in cigarette smoke on the levels of biomarkers in smokers" Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2010; 19: 1389-98.