5 Harmful Health Effects From Carbon Monoxide In Cigarettes

Indoor Air Quality, Safety

The dangers of smoking cigarettes or tobacco are mostly associated with nicotine addiction and chronic conditions or illnesses that develop slowly over time.

But only a few realize that carbon monoxide in cigarettes and tobacco smoke could cause carbon monoxide poisoning, which in distinctly high concentrations can kill you and in low levels can cause serious health affects.

Don’t think it can happen to you?

DP carbon monoxide in cigarettes

Can Smoking Lead to Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

Smoking tobacco, cigarettes, or waterpipe tobacco (hookah) produces dangerous levels of carbon monoxide (CO). CO is released when these instruments for smoking undergo “incomplete combustion”, or when the surrounding air is too oxygen-starved to bond with carbon atoms. 

The toxic CO can bind to the smokers’ red blood cells 220 times faster than oxygen can. Carbon monoxide replaces the oxygen in the body and causes tissue and organ failure such as heart and brain damage. CO poisoning can also occur in non-smokers breathing in second-hand smoke.

Even at low levels, carbon monoxide from cigarettes can 1) impair your breathing, 2) weaken your stamina 3) weaken your focus and memory, and 4) rapidly increase your heart rate. With certain health issues, low levels of CO can also 5) put you at risk of stroke and heart attack.

Contrary to what others believe, vaping or using electronic cigarettes exposes the user to carbon monoxide. Research shows that If used in a high-powered setting of 200-watt power, e-cigarettes can produce 180 parts per million (ppm) of carbon monoxide.

How Dangerous is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is labeled as one of the most lethal gases in the world. It does not have any distinct color, smell, or taste which makes it virtually impossible to detect until you experience its negative effects.

In mild cases, CO poisoning manifests as headache, fatigue, dizziness, and vomiting. Increased levels of carbon monoxide in your immediate environment can lead to feeling drowsy and disoriented and experiencing tachycardia. Maximum and prolonged exposure to CO results in convulsions, loss of consciousness, comatose, and cardiopulmonary collapse. The worst consequence of carbon monoxide poisoning is death.

Due to its disastrous impact on health and safety, several scientific and medical sources make it a point to warn the public against the dangers of carbon monoxide, including a discussion of how CO is produced.

Contrary to what others might have believed, carbon monoxide is not inherently found in nature. Its sources are predominantly artificial such as portable generators, gas water heaters, gas ovens, gas or kerosene space heaters, fireplaces, wood stoves, and finally, oil and gas furnaces.

When these man-made machines are not properly ventilated, the supply of oxygen will be restricted. Thus, instead of converting it to carbon dioxide which has two atoms of oxygen and one carbon atom, there will not be enough oxygen to mix with carbon, making it merely a carbon mono (means ‘one’) -xide.

You might think, “How do smoking cigarettes and tobacco relate to this process of carbon monoxide production?

You’ll be surprised how.

Is There Carbon Monoxide in Cigarettes and Tobacco?

While it is true that carbon monoxide is not a basic ingredient in manufacturing tobacco and cigarettes, CO can still be produced when these smoking implements are incompletely burned. 

Much like the incomplete combustion in heating and cooking devices, smoking cigars deprives the air in the immediate space of oxygen. So instead of just producing carbon dioxide which is natural and quite harmless, carbon monoxide is released.

Carbon monoxide fuses with the hemoglobin in your blood, forming a dangerous stable complex called carboxyhemoglobin (COHb). Surprisingly, CO bonds faster to our red blood cells than oxygen normally would. This puts tobacco and cigarette smokers at greater risk because high levels of carbon monoxide in their system make it harder for oxygen to even get through to vital organs.  

When the COHb in a human body increases to 3% for a non-smoker, it is already a cause of health concern. But chain smokers can have 8% minimum to 15% of COHb in their bodies. Once the carbon monoxide toxicity levels reach 10% to 30%, it can potentially result in loss of life.

Meanwhile, some think of waterpipe (others refer to it as hookah tobacco, shisha, argileh, or narghile) as fun and wholesome to try, especially when they visit some parts of the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. 

Unbeknownst to them, waterpipes are generous sources of carbon monoxide. The way it works is that a bowl with holes in the bottom is filled with a tobacco product, and then linked to a tube and a container filled with water.

As we know, tobacco itself can already generate a certain amount of carbon monoxide. But the problem is made worse because of the use of wood cinders and hot charcoal to burn tobacco products. Charcoal being a solidified carbon is a tremendous generator of carbon monoxide. 

Do E-Cigarettes or Vape Contain Carbon Monoxide?

Many promoters of electronic cigarettes or vaping shout from the rooftops that these alternatives to traditional tobacco and cigarette smoking are at least 95% less harmful because it does not involve combustion as regular cigarettes do. But is that true? 

Several published and certified studies say otherwise. 

In the research entitled, “Carbon Monoxide Concentration in Mainstream E-cigarette Emissions Measured with Diode Laser Spectroscopy” by Rileigh Casebolt et al, it has been proven that when lighted, “an e-cigarette…have the potential to oxidize into carbon monoxide (CO)…”

This research is a breakthrough as it is initially written by a student for fellow students who have been disillusioned by marketing campaigns of vape brands that e-cigarettes have no risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

“Carbon monoxide concentration was found to be a direct function of the power of the resistive heating [of e-cigarettes]. At the highest powers testable using commercial e-cigarette components, the maximum CO concentration measured was over 180 ppm. The flavoring compounds in the e-fluid also had an effect on the concentration of carbon monoxide present in the effluent.,” the study continued.

This finding is also supported by another published research by Son et al published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information reported, “While e-cigarettes emitted generally less CO and carbonyls than conventional cigarettes, daily carbonyl exposures from e-cigarette use could still exceed acute exposure limits, with the top-coil device potentially posing more harm than conventional cigarettes.”

The Dangers Of Low Level CO Poisoning

Everyone is susceptible to carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, but some groups are at higher risk even from low levels of carbon monoxide.These groups include the elderly, people with cardiac or respiratory problems, and children.

Elderly people are more likely to have a health problem that makes them susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning. This is because their cardiac and respiratory systems aren’t as efficient as they used to be.

Children are also at a higher risk for carbon monoxide poisoning. This is because they have a higher metabolic rate and take more breaths than adults do. So, even if there’s only a small amount of carbon monoxide in the air, they can still be affected by it.

CO alarms aggravate this issue because they are designed not to sound at levels below of 70 PPM and when they do, it requires those levels to persist for several hours or even days before they finally do sound.

More research is needed about the harmful effects that lower levels of carbon monoxide exposure can have both acutely and over long periods of time. But there is enough research out there to suggest it’s a problem.

It has been shown that CO poisoning has both short term and long term effects. A report using long term studies indicates there are serious and permanent consequences to carbon monoxide poisoning such as neurological damage and cardiovascular complications.

A study conducted in 1998 showed that low levels of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure lead to impairments in cognitive functions like problem solving, and short term and long term memories.

Safeguard Your Health Against Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Clearly, cigarettes, tobacco, water pipes and e-cigarettes are detrimental to our health for a variety of reasons. But carbon monoxide poisoning, even at low levels, is at the top of our concerns against these smoking habits.

What should you do if you fear you are in danger of CO poisoning right at your home?

  1. Install carbon monoxide detectors. if possible, on every floor of your house. Because CO is untraceable without CO detectors, it could silently harm your family, without you being the wiser. Use low-level alarms
  2. Don’t smoke indoors. Or better yet, don’t smoke at all. Besides carbon monoxide poisoning, smoking makes you vulnerable to lung diseases, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and many other grave illnesses.
  3. Have your furnace and other heating systems serviced regularly. If no one in your family smokes, you could still be susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning if you neglect the annual inspection of your furnace. Hire a qualified professional to check your heating system to detect early problems and implement a fix.

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