Carbon Monoxide Exposure From Cigarettes

By: Alexandria Haber

Cigarette smoking is a highly addictive and dangerous habit that sees millions of North Americans trying to quit everyday. Thanks to the efforts of science, a great deal more is known today about the dangers of smoking than ever before. Increased publicity has led to better education of the general public on the hazards of cigarette smoke. Unfortunately, although many smokers know that smoking can lead to lung disease and cancer, few are aware of the dangers of carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is present in every cigarette causing a legitimate threat to a person's health. Anyone who smokes, regardless of how often, should know about carbon monoxide and how it affects the body when it is inhaled.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is known as the silent killer because it is colorless and odorless and thus virtually impossible for a human to detect. The symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure are typically seemingly harmless, which is why detection of CO poisoning often comes too late. In the body of a smoker, CO blocks the absorption of oxygen into the bloodstream from the lungs. This process has the effect of poisoning the red blood cells in a way that prevents them from carrying oxygen. When body tissues do not receive a constant and adequate supply of oxygen, they cease to function.

In the same way that a car's tail pipe releases CO, so does a lit cigarette when someone smokes it. Studies have indicated that a CO molecule more closely resembles hemoglobin than an oxygen molecule. This means that the CO found in cigarettes replaces oxygen in the blood. When this happens it becomes difficult for the red blood cells to do their job and carry oxygen throughout the body. Research has shown that a person who smokes a pack of cigarettes in an 8-hour time period will see their CO blood saturation rise to between 7 and 15 percent, thus reducing the availability of oxygen to the body. This seems especially dangerous when you consider that the normal rate of CO in the blood is between 0 and 8 parts per million.

Compared to most cases of carbon monoxide exposure, cigarette smoking appears to be the lesser threat. Smoking cigarettes typically does not create carbon monoxide levels that pose an imminent threat; however, this is not to say that the body does not suffer from exposure to the CO found in cigarettes. As an immediate effect, the CO in cigarettes can cause shortness of breath and an increased heart rate. Over time, a smoker's risk escalates and prolonged CO exposure, even at low levels, can lead to heart disease. In addition, CO in cigarettes also contributes to a buildup of fat on the artery walls. This buildup is potentially dangerous and often the cause of heart failure.

There are many dangers associated with smoking and unfortunately, many people do not realize that carbon monoxide exposure is one of them. Although carbon monoxide levels caused by cigarettes are relatively low, there are still some long and short-term risks that should be recognized. Carbon monoxide in cigarettes is just one more reason why smoking is a habit to kick!

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