Tuesday 22nd July 12:02 pm
Cigarettes: roll your own vs factory-made
Tuesday 22nd July 2014 12:02 pm
Back when I was in my 20s, I foolishly took what is probably the most dangerous and addictive drug known to the human race — the one that kills more people than any other drug. Yup, for a few years, I stupidly smoked cigarettes.
I thought that by smoking roll-your-own cigarettes, or ‘rollies’, rather than factory-made, I was taking a healthier (or at least, less harmful) pathway. I was so wrong.
Here are some stats for you.
Half of the people who smoke cigarettes will die from a smoking-related disease. In Australia, that works out to about 15,000 deaths per year. None of these deaths had to happen. Various cancers, heart disease, and chronic obstructive lung disease are smoking’s preferred method of dispatch. Cancers were the number one cause of smoking-related deaths, killing just over half of male and female smokers. About three quarters of these cancers were lung cancer.
In the Australian financial year of 2004-2005, smokers spent over 750,000 days in hospital — leading to hospital costs of about $670 million.
To summarise; tobacco causes about 90 per cent of all drug-related deaths, and about 11 per cent of all deaths.
Now we’re all familiar with the neat geometrical sticks of cigarettes when they’re factory-made. But rollies, which are made with loose fine-cut tobacco and cigarette papers, are usually fairly messy.
The smoking of rollies rather than factory-made varies from country to country. The popularity of rollies in the smoking population ranges from about 58 per cent in Thailand, 39 per cent in New Zealand, 28 per cent in the UK, 24 per cent in Australia down to only 7 per cent in the USA.
And why do people smoke rollies? Again, it varies around the world. But in general, there are three main reasons. First, they’re cheaper, second, you feel more independent and ‘cool’, and third is the belief that roll-your-own tobacco is more ‘natural’, and therefore ‘safer’ or ‘less harmful’ than factory-made cigarettes.
Unfortunately for the (usually poorer) people who tend to smoke rollies, they are both less natural and more harmful. In factory-made cigarettes, the additives make up about half-a-per cent of the dry weight of the tobacco. But in the rollies, the additives are about 18 per cent of the dry weight. In other words, rollies have about 38 times more additives than factory-made ciggies.
These additives include sweeteners, such as honey, sugar or dextrose. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that these sweeteners make rollies smoother for new smokers, such as children. But some of the other additives include chemicals with less-than-wholesome names such as propylene glycol, trans-benzaldehyde, phenylcarbinol and ethyl butyrate. Another factor in the health risk of rollies is that they are usually thinner, so that you have to suck harder, which increases how much tar lands in your airways.
We’re not too sure why, but a Norwegian study of 26,000 smokers showed that rollies were associated with higher, not lower, risks of lung cancer. And other studies consistently show a two-to-three times increased risk of cancers of the oesophagus, mouth, pharynx and larynx directly linked to rollies.
The way that the tobacco companies get around this is by totally ignoring the facts.
‘Big tobacco’ is now changing the image of rollies from low-cost and down-at-heel to ‘cool’, ‘better tasting’ and ‘natural and organic’. They don’t mention the 38 times more additives.
But there is good news — no matter what kind of cigarettes you smoke.
If you quit smoking before middle age, you reduce the risk of lung cancer by 90 per cent. Within two to five years of giving up smoking, your risk of heart attack and stroke drops significantly. And after 15 years of not smoking, your risk of stroke is the same as if you had never smoked.
But all this ignores an inherent contradiction — or in plain English: something that doesn’t make sense. On one hand, overwhelmingly around the world, it is official government policy to discourage smoking. But on the other hand, we allow companies (that exist only to make a profit) to sell dangerous addictive drugs to the public, which directly kill half of those who get addicted.
Why can’t we just tell the cigarette companies to simply butt out?
This blog first appeared on Dr Karl's Great Moments in Science
© 2017 Karl S. Kruszelnicki Pty Ltd