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Carcinogen Levels Similar in Herbal, Regular Cigarettes

Study investigates cigarettes containing medicinal herbs, which are growing more popular in China

MONDAY, Dec. 7 (HealthDay News) -- Smokers of regular cigarettes and herbal cigarettes -- products containing tobacco and extracts of Chinese medicinal herbs that are gaining popularity in China -- have similar levels of nicotine and carcinogens, according to research published in the December issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

Quan Gan, of the University of California in San Francisco, and colleagues analyzed data from 135 male adult smokers of herbal cigarettes (15 to 20 per day) and 143 smokers of regular cigarettes (15 to 20 per day), all from the same city in China. Subjects answered questions about their smoking patterns and provided urine samples for testing for metabolites of tobacco constituents. Values were normalized by urine creatinine to account for urine dilution or concentration.

The researchers found that both groups of smokers had similar levels of cotinine, trans-3'-hydroxycotinine, total nitrosamine 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-butanol, and total polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon metabolites. After switching from regular to herbal cigarettes, subjects reported smoking more cigarettes daily.

"With a strong foothold in several provinces in China, several herbal brands are being exported to Japan, Korea, countries in Southeast Asia, and North America. Because of the health benefits the marketing implies and the fact that smokers in many of these countries are more health conscious, herbal cigarettes are, albeit slowly, gaining popularity in these countries. Local regulatory agencies should be aware of the unsubstantiated health claims and take measures to restrict the marketing of herbal cigarettes," the authors write.

A co-author reported testifying as an expert witness in lawsuits against the tobacco industry.

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