Can herbal cigarettes be harmful?

When in cigarettes, yes, say doctors

March 11, 2019 04:01 pm | Updated 04:53 pm IST

Quit it  Herbal cigarettes may not help kick the habit

Quit it Herbal cigarettes may not help kick the habit

Given the ‘nature-wellness’ age we live in, it’s hard not to hear ‘organic’ or ‘herbal’ and immediately associate them with good health. The cigarette industry, in a bid to tap into the market driven by the all-natural mindset, sells what they call herbal cigarettes. They’re touted as a way to wean smokers off, but do they really work?

What is a herbal cigarette?

Herbal or organic cigarettes are paper rolls comprising herbs such as basil, lemongrass, spearmint leaves, rose petals, green tea and the like. These herbs are blended in different proportions to change flavours. They do not contain nicotine or tobacco.

What are the claims?

Of all the herbal cigarettes available in the market, Mea Ame’s Organic Smokes is one of the leading brands. Packaged in a rustic wooden box, the cigarettes are marketed as a ‘safer’ way of smoking. “We have worked with Ayurveda doctors to create our cigarettes. It is based on the technique of dhoomapana , which involves inhaling herbal smoke,” says co-founder Gaurav Chhabra. He claims that Organic Smokes not only helps wean smokers off cigarettes, but also, “helps cure cough and cold, without any side effects.”

What’s the medical fraternity saying?

Doctors working in the field of cancer and respiratory diseases are just not buying it. “The reason people smoke is for the nicotine hit. But you must remember that it is the thousand other chemicals that go along with nicotine that cause harm,” says Dr Sundeep Salvi, Director of the Chest Research Foundation, Pune. “Even if these cigarettes don’t contain tobacco, any organic matter (carbon compounds) when smoked, releases black tar, which is very harmful for the lungs,” he says.

Do we have research?

Studies done on herbal cigarettes are limited. Dr Arvind Krishnamurthy, Head of Surgical Oncology at Adyar Cancer Institute, Chennai, points to one titled, ‘Herbal but potentially hazardous’ published in the Tobacco Control journal. The authors tested the dangers of herbal shisha . It was found that the smoke released contained carcinogens equivalent to or in excess of those of tobacco products. Herbal cigarettes contain significant amounts of carbon monoxide, and ultra-fine particulate matter, found another study from Korea, published in Toxicological Research journal. While herbal cigarettes come with tar filters, Dr Salvi believes this only keeps 30% of it away.

Why should we be doubly worried?

Despite the researched dangers to health, herbal cigarettes do not come with any warning signs or labels. The Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act regulates that no cigarette can be sold without a label warning users of the consequences to their health. However, it’s definition of a cigarette is ‘any roll of tobacco wrapped in paper or in any other substance (which may or may not contain tobacco)’. The stress is on the presence of tobacco, which is absent in herbal cigarettes. “Like e-cigarettes, herbal cigarettes too are aimed at youngsters, to be used as a form of tobacco cessation. But rather than helping people stay away from cigarettes, they’ll only induce them to try an actual one later on in life,” believes Dr Krishnamurthy.

The danger: Kids may not have easy access to cigarettes, but they do have lawful access to herbal cigarettes. So do talk to them about it.

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