Unknown Mechanism of Smoking Discovered

Peter Choi

Cigarettes are a common sight in the streets of New York, and many people choose to continue to smoke, even knowing the risks. It is well-known and generally accepted that cigarettes are linked to cancer, yet the underlying mechanism is still rather perplexing.

While smoking is known to be linked to cancer, the premise behind its effects of the increased risk of cancers in bladders and kidneys- tissues that are not exposed to smoke- perplexes many scientists. Through extensive research, scientists have identified recurrent patterns of mutations in tissues of some cancers.

Recently, a study by Dr. Ludmil Alexandrov, a cancer geneticists at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, reveals that smokers had several differences in the number of altered DNA strands in tumors compared to non-smokers who had the same time of cancer. For instance, a suite of mutations called Signature 4 is consistently found in tissues exposed to tobacco smoke such as the lungs and oral cavities of the smoker.

Alexandrov states, “Tobacco smoke leaves permanent mutations; it erodes the genetic material of most cells in your body. Even if you are just a social smoker who occasionally has one or two or five cigarettes, there is still a cumulative effect.”

After the researchers took into account the quantity smoked, their findings demonstrate that the number of certain mutations is linked to the number of packs of cigarettes smoked in

“pack years,” the average amount of packs of cigarettes in a year. The research concludes that a pack a day for the one year leads to 150 mutations on average in each lung cell, 97 in each

larynx cell, 39 in pharynx cells, 23 in oral cavity cells, 18 in bladder cells, and 6 in liver cells.

Mr. Lin, a chemistry teacher at Brooklyn Technical High School, states, “I believe that smoking and the risks involved are far too dangerous for the public to turn a blind eye to.  Whether it is ethical or not is not really my place to say because people are entitled to live their life the way they want to. However, these dangers are clear enough to me that I would tell anyone who is thinking about picking up smoking to stop and anyone who has been smoking a long time to consider dropping the unhealthy habit. I strongly believe more awareness of the dangers of smoking is necessary to combat the riser number of smokers today.”

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