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Incense Smoke Is Worse Than Cigarette Smoke

A new study suggests that incense sticks might be worse than tobacco. The results have been published in the journal Environmental Chemistry Letters.

incense stick

Past studies have shown that smoke emanating from incense sticks are possibly noxious to the health. The new study, though, tackled the question from a different angle by comparing the effects of incense sticks with those of tobacco. Surprisingly, tobacco is apparently less harmful. Given the widespread use of incense, specially in Asia at home and in temples, it is time to consider the potential disadvantages thereof.

“Clearly, there needs to be greater awareness and management of the health risks associated with burning incense in indoor environments,” said Rong Zhou of the South China University of Technology, in a statement.

Zhou and his team compared two types of incense with tobacco smoke. The effects were observed on bacteria as well as on ovary cells of Chinese hamsters. The results showed that incense smoke was mutagenic: it could trigger mutations in the DNA.

It was also found to be more toxic to cells and to DNA – cytotoxic & genotoxic – than its tobacco counterpart. Furthermore, 2 of the 64 compounds in the incense smoke were described as “highly toxic”.

Though the study did not deal with humans directly, it might serve as a warning to those who regularly breathe in incense smoke for the findings suggest an association with the development of cancer.

On the other hand, the fact that we do not inhale incense and tobacco smoke in the same manner also plays a role.

“[W]e cannot simply conclude that incense smoke is more toxic than cigarette smoke because of differences in consumption styles of these products,” write the authors.

Finally, the researchers conclude with hopes that their study can promote the development of regulatory measures pertaining to the sale of incense products.

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