Cigarette tar directly linked to cancer
October 17, 1996
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From Correspondent Eugenia Halsey
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Add this to the evidence that smoking is
bad for you: Scientists say they have found the component of
cigarette smoke that causes lung cancer. The study, published
in Thursday's issue of the journal Science, says the factor
is found in the tar of cigarette smoke.
"We have found a specific component of cigarette smoke, benzo
pyrene, to be very strongly implicated in lung cancer
development," said Gerd Pfeifer, a researcher at City of Hope
Medical Center, a cancer center near Los Angeles.
Pfeifer says scientists knew tobacco tar contained numerous
possible cancer-causing agents, but now he says his team has
pinpointed the exact one. When the scientists put the benzo
(a) pyrene chemical compound on human lung cells, a gene
called p53 that normally keeps tumors from forming was
The cells then started dividing abnormally, eventually
leading to tumors. "We found that the DNA in these cells gets
specifically damaged at the same sites where people find
mutations in lung cancer tissue," Pfeifer said.
Researcher say the finding refutes the tobacco industry's long-standing
claim that there is no scientific proof that cigarette
smoking causes cancer, despite stacks of studies showing
people who smoke are more likely to develop the disease.
A spokesman for Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company played
down the research's significance, while Philip Morris
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is attempting to
regulate tobacco, also declined comment on the study.
But anti-smoking activists say the discovery could help
efforts to compensate smokers through hundreds of lawsuits
being brought against the tobacco industry.
"This finding will definitely be the death sentence for the
tobacco industry, because it is the final, last step, the
conclusive proof, the smoking gun if you will, that tobacco
smoke causes lung cancer," said John Banzhaf of the group
Action on Smoking and Health.
Other scientists are skeptical of Banzhaf's view. They say
while the study provides one more important piece of
evidence, they doubt it will change the legal landscape much,
since thousands of other studies documenting a strong link
between smoking and lung cancer have failed to do so.
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