American Association for Cancer Research

AACR Press Releases

Chinese "Herbal" Cigarettes No Healthier than Regular Cigarettes


December 3, 2009

• Chinese herbal cigarettes are growing in popularity.
• The general misconception is that they are safer.

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PHILADELPHIA - Despite popular belief and some marketing claims, researchers have found that Chinese "herbal" cigarettes that combine medicinal herbs with tobacco are just as addictive and no safer than regular cigarettes.

"The public needs to be aware that herbal cigarettes do not deliver fewer carcinogens," said lead researcher Stanton A. Glantz, Ph.D., professor of medicine in the Department of Medicine and Cardiovascular Research Institute at the University of California, San Francisco. "We hope our findings will help to dispel the myth that they are a safer alternative to conventional cigarettes; they are not."

Results of this study are published in the December issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, which has a special focus on tobacco.

Chinese herbal cigarettes are becoming increasingly more popular in China and elsewhere in the world. Glantz, along with colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco (including Quan Gan, Ph.D., and Neal L. Benowitz, M.D.), and researchers at the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention, examined the levels of four markers to determine differences in the delivery of nicotine and carcinogens between the two marketed products. They compared 135 people who smoked herbal cigarettes and 143 people who smoked "regular" tobacco cigarettes. The study was conducted in one city in China.

After analyzing participants' urine samples and evaluating questionnaires, the researchers observed no significant difference in the levels of all four markers: cotinine and trans-3'-hydroxycotinine (two markers of nicotine intake); and total 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-butanol and total polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (two classes of carcinogens).

"Levels of carcinogens were correlated with measures of nicotine intake, meaning that the more nicotine smokers took in, the higher the levels of carcinogens they took in," Glantz said.

Furthermore, 47 percent of participants who switched to use of herbal cigarettes did so because herbal cigarettes had a "better taste;" 24 percent switched because of their health concerns and the notion that herbal cigarettes were a healthier alternative. Most participants who switched to herbal cigarettes reported an increase in number of cigarettes smoked per day.

"Adding herbs to the cigarettes would not be expected to affect the nicotine, which is the addictive drug in tobacco, and cancer-causing chemicals in the smoke of cigarettes," said Glantz. "The Chinese tobacco industry should avoid misleading the public when promoting herbal cigarettes as 'safer' products."

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The mission of the American Association for Cancer Research is to prevent and cure cancer. Founded in 1907, the AACR is the world's oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research. The membership includes 30,000 basic, translational and clinical researchers; health care professionals; and cancer survivors and advocates in the United States and nearly 90 other countries. The AACR marshals the full spectrum of expertise from the cancer community to accelerate progress in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer through high-quality scientific and educational programs. It funds innovative, meritorious research grants, research fellowship and career development awards. The AACR Annual Meeting attracts more than 16,000 participants who share the latest discoveries and developments in the field. Special conferences throughout the year present novel data across a wide variety of topics in cancer research, treatment and patient care. The AACR publishes six major peer-reviewed journals: Cancer Research; Clinical Cancer Research; Molecular Cancer Therapeutics; Molecular Cancer Research; Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention; and Cancer Prevention Research. The AACR also publishes CR, a magazine for cancer survivors and their families, patient advocates, physicians and scientists. CR provides a forum for sharing essential, evidence-based information and perspectives on progress in cancer research, survivorship and advocacy.

Media Contact:
Tara Yates
(267) 646-0558
tara.yates@aacr.org