60-Second Science

Cigarettes Are Bacteria Sticks, Too

A study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives finds that cigarettes harbor various species of bacteria, some of which cause disease. Karen Hopkin reports

This January, the country Turkey will join a handful of European nations that require “visual health warnings” on every pack of cigarettes. These images include things like diseased lungs and a foot sporting a toe tag. But maybe a Petri dish overrun with bacteria should make the list. Because a new study shows that cigarettes are contaminated with a bevy of nasty bugs, including some that cause disease. The report will appear in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Burning and inhaling that heady mix of tar and nicotine, not to mention the benzene and other chemicals in tobacco smoke, can promote lung cancer and emphysema. And now it seems that cigarettes could also deliver a dose of respiratory infection. Scientists used what are called gene chips to identify the microbes present in four different brands of smokes. And the list they found reads like a syllabus for Microbiology 101: it includes Acinetobacter, clostridium, klebsiella and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, all of which can make people sick.

The researchers think some bugs can probably survive in the smoke. (inhalation sound) Ahhhhh. So carcinogenic. And now, with bacterial pathogens!

—Karen Hopkin

[The above text is an exact transcript of the audio in the podcast.]

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