Test for a smoker's puff strength
A new test on cigarette butts may help to assess how variations in puffing habits influence smokers' intake of cancer-causing chemicals
"It's important to find out what levels of harmful chemicals people are taking into their bodies," says Clifford Watson of the National Center for Environmental Health in Atlanta, Georgia, who developed the test. Cigarette manufacturers use a suction machine to assess tar and nicotine levels. The device takes one small puff of a lit cigarette every minute and catches nicotine and tar in a fibre filter.
But human smokers take bigger, more frequent puffs, says Martin Jarvis of University College London, who studies tobacco dependence. "The machine test is fundamentally misleading," he says - it may underestimate carcinogen intake.
Watson's test, outlined in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, measures a naturally occurring tobacco ingredient called solanesol. This lodges in the filter as smoke is breathed in - in quantities proportional to the amount of tar and nicotine that are sucked into the mouth. The chemical hangs around for weeks, so butts can be collected and stored for analysis. Smokers may drag harder on their first cigarette of the day, says Watson. They may also puff differently when they are at work, snatching short but intense breaks.