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Breathing second-hand smoke increases cancer risk in humans. Now research shows that even plants are affected by nicotine in the

Nicotine was banned as an insecticide in the European Union in 2009, but vegetables and herbs often still have high levels of nicotine in them. Scientists at the Technical University of Braunschweig in Germany set out to uncover the reasons why by studying peppermint plants. The German scientists mulched their plants with cigarette tobacco.

In just a few days, the peppermint plants concentrated nicotine at levels several times higher than the amount permitted under the new agricultural rules, taking up nicotine through their roots and processing it in their leaves. In just a few more days, however, nicotine contamination levels fell just as dramatically. This suggests that nicotine contamination of vegetables, spices, teas, and herbs comes from sources other than illegal pesticides.

Nicotine Levels Also Dramatically Higher After Fumigation with Cigarette Smoke

It wasn't just nicotine in the soil that increased nicotine in plants. Fumigating plants with cigarette smoke also drastically increased nicotine content in the plant itself, as the plant literally breathed in the tobacco smoke. This simple scientific experiment showed that a naturally occurring alkaloid chemical, like nicotine, could be transferred from one plant to another after the plant that made it dies. For farmers, this discovery begins to explain why age-old practices like crop rotation and companion planting work. Even when humans don't use chemicals, plants can generate their own. However, it also points out a practical application, reducing the effective of second-hand smoking.

Why Should We Care About Second-Hand Smoke?

Is nicotine bad, that is, the nicotine from second-hand smoke? Non-smokers, both pets and humans, who breathe in cigarette, pipe, and cigar smoke are at elevated risk for a variety of diseases.

  • Cats and dogs that are exposed to second-hand smoke are at twice as great risk for certain kinds of cancers as those who are not.
  • When cats groom themselves, they ingest tar and ash from cigarette smoke. Cats that live in households with smokers are twice as likely to develop a deadly form of cancer known as feline lymphoma, a potentially fatal cancer of the feline immune system.
  • Dogs that are exposed to cigarette smoke are twice as likely to develop cancers of the mouth and nose as dogs that do not.
  • Smaller animals and birds, such as hamsters, gerbils, ferrets, canaries, and mice, are especially susceptible to the effects of second-hand smoke.
  • (Human) children who are exposed to second-hand smoke, who live in a household in which at least one other person smokes, are twice as likely to become smokers themselves.
  • Second-hand smoke is a major risk factor for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
  • Infants who are exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke have slower development of motor skills and language by the age of eighteen months.
  • Second-hand smoke increases the risk of asthma, lung cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
  • There is no known safe level of second-hand tobacco smoke.
  • Vaping nicotine liquid produces second-hand smoke with effects similar to second-hand tobacco smoke.

Even families that do not smoke can be endangered by chemicals in second-hand smoke from their neighbors, except, of course, in smoke-free buildings. For those who do not live in smoke-free environments, however, house plants can help control the detrimental effects of smoking.

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