Is Nicotine a Carcinogen?

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Nicotine is a highly addictive poison that has had many uses. Over time nicotine has been many things, a medicine, a pesticide, and a stimulant, but is nicotine a carcinogen?

While the debate has ended about whether or not cigarettes cause cancer, some doubt still exists that nicotine itself causes the disease. The tar in cigarettes, which includes the more than 3,000 chemicals in the smoke itself, has been linked to the increased risk of lung cancers in smokers. It is also known that using chewing tobacco and snuff increases the risk of cancers of the mouth and throat. But with so many chemicals to sort out and differences in the method of ingestion, it is difficult for researchers to isolate the effects of just one chemical in all applications.

Nicotine itself has not been giving a cancer rating, and it has not been analyzed as a carcinogen in its pure form. Although researchers call it the most biologically active ingredient in tobacco smoke and chewing tobacco, nicotine itself, according to research, does not cause the cell mutations. But in a report published in Toxicological Sciences by the Oxford Journals says that, “nicotine is converted, during the production of cigarettes and chewing tobacco, to(emphasis added) two highly mutagenic nitrosamines,” or chemicals that are responsible for mutating DNA. The same report also describes nicotine as a creator of free radicals, the components that create cell damage. While general knowledge says that a chemical has to have mutative effects to be carcinogenic, research shows that nicotine also slows down apoptosis, which is one way the body cleans up potentially cancerous and damaged cells. Although it may be inconclusive that nicotine itself causes damage to DNA, it is clear from current research that it is indirectly responsible for cell damage, and then inhibits the body from cleaning up that cell damage.

While it may be disconcerting to know that pure nicotine may be indirectly related to cancer, but it should be downright scary to know it can kill you. In its pure form it can kill an adult by simply pouring nicotine liquid on the skin. It is readily absorbed through the pores, and as little as 40 milligrams is enough to kill an adult. Some new devices that use nicotine in its pure form are calling themselves safer than cigarettes. This research, and research to follow, may prove just the opposite.

References:
http://toxsci.oxfordjournals.org/content/79/1/1.full
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicotine#Toxicology
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/health/article6143744.ece
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