News Flash! Scientists Find that Cigarettes May Be Dangerous!

French woman smoking[social_buttons]

A team of American and French scientists have just documented the fact that there are a lot of bacteria in cigarettes and that the bacterial population includes some human pathogens.  They don’t actually know if this leads to human disease- after all, these things are BURNED!.  Still it raises interesting issues. But at least the tobacco is not GMO!

OK, I am indulging in some irony here.  If you have shared my experience of having a wonderful dinner in Paris compromised by smoking neighbors at the closely-spaced tables you can relate.  European colonizers might have devastated native American peoples through disease and guns 500 years ago, but the original “Americans” got a little pay-back by introducing the Europeans to an addictive and carcinogenic product they had never known.

I have always found it fascinating that Europeans have mainly avoided GMO crops based on fears of theoretical problems that have not materialized over more than a decade of GMO commercialization, all the while allowing an extremely well-documented source of health problems to be widely used and imposed on non-smokers.  The “precautionary principle” that prevails in Europe does not seem to protect them from “documented risks”, only from “imagined risks”.  This new data on cigarettes should trigger precautionary responses that would say that all tobacco products should be banned until this bacterial risk can be assessed. I’m guessing that won’t happen.  

It is not clear that pathogenic bacteria on the tobacco in cigarettes actually causes disease, but if they did there would be a “solution.”  The tobacco could be irradiated the way that we irradiate outdoor dried spices that go into processed foods (think about it, you don’t want spices dried outside and exposed to bacteria inoculating your potato salad or pate…).  That is not likely to happen either.

Well, in any case, if this new finding gets more Europeans to stop smoking, all the better.  Their societies are now so far below the reproductive “replacement rate” they certainly don’t need any additional force for population reduction. 


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Image of French woman smoking from saneboy



About the Author

Born in Denver, now living near San Diego. Agricultural scientist for 30+ years with a Ph.D. in Plant Pathology. Have worked for Colorado State University, DuPont and Mycogen and for the last 13 years consulting for all sorts or companies, universities and grower groups. Experience in biological control, natural products, synthetic chemicals, genetics, GMOs and agronomic practices. Have given multiple invited talks on the interaction between agriculture and climate change (both ways)
  • But! but! Humans and tobacco evolved together over thousands of years. The tobacco plant contains powerful natural compounds that effect the human body. Why should we care that western medicine can’t explain (or detect) the beneficial effects of cigarette smoke when it can’t explain homeopathy or herbal remedies either? <– sarcasm

  • Very funny James. Maybe we need to do a Michael Pollan thing and anthropomorphize this crop and develop a conspiracy theory to explain how it tricked us into killing ourselves….

  • Edward Craig

    We need to be below the replacement rate, at least until we reduce the world population about 99.9% (probably a bit more, but we need at most to produce .005 of the current population).

  • The North American natives who used tobacco did so at infrequent ceremonies, thus avoiding a threshold beyond which their bodies had trouble repairing the damage the inhaled smoke caused. The Europeans abused it just like they abused the rest of the North American continent and others, getting themselves addicted and worse. It’s not the couple selecting the downwind table and enjoying a single mini cigar apiece after a meal, it’s the obnoxious chain smokers burning coffin nails in the middle of the crowd that annoy the most.

    The best use of tobacco I’ve heard is to extract the nicotine to make insecticidal soap with. The stuff kills ground-based pests and plant lice for about a week before breaking down to harmless byproducts, therefore having no remaining effect on the crops or their fertilising and beneficial insect species. Also, planting a portion of tobacco among other crops can help deter predation by vermin and reduce the need for other less-natural controls.

  • Edward,
    You seem a little hostile towards out species, but the challenge for the next few generations is going to be how to handle first a rapidly aging population and then how to make economic systems, social systems and cultures work with declining population. This is not a challenge we have faced before except briefly during the Black Plague. I’m not sure this will be pretty.

    I think you may be right about the Native American use pattern on tobacco. Nicotine is a halfway decent pesticide, but it is actually more toxic than modern synthetic options


  • MaryM

    Heh–good one, Steve.

    I didn’t understand the system in Germany, and I accidentally got on a train car that was the smoking car. I was sick as a dog by the next stop. That stuff is bad news, should be banned for sure 🙂

  • alex

    fyi, it is now totally forbidden to smoke in public spaces such as restaurants, stations, nightclub or bars in France. So you should consider your experience as history…

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