A Tobacco Tar Study

H/T MikeF and Rose for comments on tobacco ‘tar’ studies.  The Production of Tumors by Tobacco Tars (1941) described how tars were condensed from tobacco in a still, and then painted onto various laboratory animals to produce tumours. It also provided a helpful cross-section of the still used to prepare distillates:

I couldn’t help but notice that there was an asbestos gasket at the top of the steel pipe in which the tobacco was heated, over which gases or vapours ascending out of the pipe at the top would have passed. There was also an asbestos cover and an asbestos board included in the contraption, which was placed inside a garbage can.

They didn’t know in 1941 that asbestos is a Group 1 carcinogen (carcinogenic to humans):

Quartz, mica, and asbestos are all examples of network covalent crystals that have the formula SiO2. The difference between them is in their lattice structure. Quartz forms a three-dimensional lattice with Si and O at the lattice points. Mica has a two-dimensional crystal lattice with Si and O at the lattice points. This two-dimensional lattice gives mica its flat surface. Flat mica molecules are held together with weak dispersion bonds that allow mica to be peeled apart.

Asbestos has a one-dimensional lattice of Si and O. It has a needle-like structure that appears as threads when asbestos molecules are pulled apart from one another. Asbestos is found in natural deposits. Asbestos is a known carcinogen. In slides taken at the Gray’s Freshwater Biological Institute in Minnesota, normal cells are punctured by the needle-like asbestos macromolecules, leaving damaged cells that reproduce cancer cells.

Because of the high melting point and soft, fiber-like structure of asbestos, it has been used in fire-proof suits, as insulation, as roofing material, in floor tiles, in pipe wrap, in automobile brake pads, to sound-proof ceilings and walls, and as fire-proof material in wire supports for ring stands in chemistry labs. In 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered a ban on most of these uses of asbestos. Efforts are taking place to rid buildings, such as schools, of loosely sprayed asbestos insulation. The removal of asbestos must be carefully controlled to prevent exposure from airborne particles. It was interesting to be at Breck School last summer to see asbestos being removed from the school. The entire area was closed off with plastic. Huge ventilation pipes were installed, and the people doing the removal dressed in “space” suits with respirators. Instruments to monitor air quality during the removal process were carefully watched.

And since mica has the same chemical formula as asbestos – SiO2 -, it seems plausible to suppose that the “expanded mica” insulation around the still is really asbestos by another name, and equally carcinogenic.

What about the chrome and aluminium and steel components of the still? Might they be carcinogenic? And what about the soot that was likely to be produced by heating tobacco to 800° C?

I also noticed this passage:

Effect of fractions of tar on rabbits. — Each of 5 fractions and the residue was tested. Two cubic centimeters of benzene were added as a solvent to each gram of substance. All rabbits used were white. All except 2 of the rabbits were painted for at least i86, and most for 2oo days. One in the i4o-i8o° C. series died at 96 days and one in the residue series died at i47 days, both without tumors.

So the condensed tar was dissolved in benzene, presumably to make it easier to paint onto the mice or rabbits. Coal tar in the control group was also dissolved in benzene. I wonder if benzene is a carcinogen?

Group 1 carcinogens are “carcinogenic to humans”. Included among known Group 1 carcinogens are:

Asbestos (all forms) and mineral substances (such as talc or vermiculite) that contain asbestos

Chromium (VI) compounds

Aluminum production

Iron and steel founding (workplace exposure)

Soot (as found in workplace exposure of chimney sweeps)


Well, the still probably doesn’t produce much in the way of aluminium or iron, but apart from that, more or less everything it’s made of is carcinogenic. And if the carcinogenic still wasn’t enough, carcinogenic benzene was liberally added to the tobacco condensate tar.

It’s amazing, with such a confection of multiple carcinogens being painted on the lab animals, that while papillomas and tumors were produced,  no proven carcinomas were produced in the rabbits in this 1941 study.

Most likely, asbestos and benzene and chromium compounds weren’t known to be carcinogenic in 1941, otherwise this particular still would never have been used. If high temperature glass had been used to make the entire still and condenser, there would have been no contamination by carcinogens (assuming glass isn’t carcinogenic). Has that ever been done? As it stands, given the degree of carcinogen contamination, this 1941 study would seem to be entirely without value.

Anyway, alcohol (ethanol) is, like asbestos, yet aother Group 1 carcinogen. The following video shows how cancer tumours develop in a glass of beer in the space of a few minutes.

I reckon the trick to avoiding getting cancer is probably to avoid swallowing the tumours.

About Frank Davis

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31 Responses to A Tobacco Tar Study

  1. harleyrider1978 says:

    A smoking ban in pub beer gardens? Stop persecuting smokers

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      ah hell chris wrote the above damn
      Chris Snowdon is director of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, and author of The Art of Suppression: Pleasure, Panic and Prohibition since 1800.

  2. harleyrider1978 says:

    According to EPA anything and everything will be a group sub class carcinogen before they are done. If we go by theyre values of dosemetry any femptogram will cause immediate death.

  3. Joe L. says:

    Excellent post, Frank. The researchers may not have known asbestos and benzene were carcinogenic then, but 800°C? Surely they must have realized that wasn’t a realistic replication of the act of smoking tobacco.

    I’ll risk sounding like a broken record by asking: Why we don’t hear of researchers attempting to replicate all of these archaic studies using modern scientific techniques, information and technology? If the healthists were truly concerned about the well-being of the public, this would be the ethical way to utilize their funding. Instead, they seem to have closed and bolted that door as soon as they had the results needed to embark upon the anti-smoking crusade.

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      Joe remember that study was done at the height of war and smoking wasn’t to be shamed in any way by anyone it was for the war effort. But also remember it was the leftover anti-smoking nutcase from Americas last tobacco prohibition movemet who were likely behind the study to begin with trying desperately to come up with anything to use at a later date like the doll hill study was used for in the 50s……….

      Remember Frank I believe said it was 10,000 times the normal tars found in a cigarette besides all the other crap they pumped up to try and get a showing of anything.

      Today its no different third hand smoke they pumped up the HONO levels 1600% in a special built chamber just to get a 1nanogram nnn reading.

      Then look at glantz junk heart disease study where he pumped up smoke levels as much as 2000% as what was on a airline cabin…………

      They know dose response is everything and the levels of real life just don’t produce results they can use so they INVENT things by pumping up concentrations to make a claim hoping nobody will look and see what they did.

      So, OSHA finally makes a statement on shs/ets :

      Field studies of environmental tobacco smoke indicate that under normal conditions, the components in tobacco smoke are diluted below existing Permissible Exposure Levels (PELS.) as referenced in the Air Contaminant Standard (29 CFR 1910.1000)…It would be very rare to find a workplace with so much smoking that any individual PEL would be exceeded.” -Letter From Greg Watchman, Acting Sec’y, OSHA.

      • harleyrider1978 says:

        If I could find the reference again that stated only 2% of life long smokers ever got LC to begin with Id post it. I just remember it was in the palm beach online paper about 2 years ago.

    • Frank Davis says:

      I’ve got a post somewhere about temperatures, and I think 800 deg C in the tip of a cigarette may not be far out.

      Haven’t these archaic studies been replicated? If they haven’t, then I don’t think there are any good studies.

      • harleyrider1978 says:

        7 October, the COT meeting on 26 October and the COC meeting on 18
        November 2004.

        “5. The Committees commented that tobacco smoke was a highly complex chemical mixture and that the causative agents for smoke induced diseases (such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, effects on reproduction and on offspring) was unknown. The mechanisms by which tobacco induced adverse effects were not established. The best information related to tobacco smoke – induced lung cancer, but even in this instance a detailed mechanism was not available. The Committees therefore agreed that on the basis of current knowledge it would be very difficult to identify a toxicological testing strategy or a biomonitoring approach for use in volunteer studies with smokers where the end-points determined or biomarkers measured were predictive of the overall burden of tobacco-induced adverse disease.”

      • Joe L. says:

        You’re right, Frank – it appears the end of a cigarette burns between ~400°C when smoldering and ~900°C when inhaling. My gut reaction was that was too high. I guess it’s because I’m calibrated on the Fahrenheit system.

        • Joe L. says:

          It looks like I might not have been very far off base after all. Thanks to Some French Bloke below and his mention of Roffo’s results being discredited for his use of “unrealistically high temperatures,” I found this report from 1956 which examines the spectrum of temperatures and application methods of tobacco “tar” in various experiments from 1928-1955:

          On the Temperatures of Burning Tobacco

          It states:

          “However, it has not been possible to identify with any certainty the carcinogen possibility present in tobacco tar.


          Obviously, if tobacco tar contains carcinogenic substances, their concentration is extremely small, and they perhaps develop accidentally, depending on the conditions of combustion. The conditions theoretically necessary for the development of aromatic hydrocarbons known to be carcinogenic, e.g., temperature, thus far are not entirely known.

        • Rose says:

          it appears the end of a cigarette burns between ~400°C when smoldering and ~900°C when inhaling

          Yes but that’s for a split second burning in air, not 8 hours on the same bit of tobacco.

          I think this section from the same article puts things in some context.

          “At higher temperatures the destructive distillates of petroleum, human skin, and yeast cholesterol (tg), turpentine (56), rice polishings and crude sugar (an), all were shown to be carcinogenic.”

          I mean, human skin? What nutcase did that? It sounds to me like destructive distillation in the lab was a new scientific toy with meaningless results.

    • Some French bloke says:

      they seem to have closed and bolted that door as soon as they had the results needed to embark upon the anti-smoking crusade.

      Conversely, when a study critical to the agenda yields some inconvenient result, e.g. “The relative risk for obese people was nearly the same as for people of normal weight.”, from the study liked to by Garyk yesterday,

      then we can expect to see more healines along the lines of this one, quoted by Marv Rubinstein in “Net-wit.com”:

  4. harleyrider1978 says:

    Smoking Is Making a Comeback in NYC

    Cigarettes are cool again. “In 2010, the city’s smoking rate fell to 14 percent, a 15-year low and 5.3 percentage points below the U.S. rate,” says a new report from New York’s Independent Budget Office. “After 2010, smoking rates in the city began to rise, reaching 16.1 percent in 2013 (the latest data available), just 1.7 percentage points below the U.S. rate.”


    • nisakiman says:

      Heh! Check out the comments from the indoctrinated. Same old same old. They probably think they’re saying something original…

  5. Smoking Lamp says:

    Excellent demonstration of the shoddy research designs used to build the rationale for antismoking measures! They won’t replicate the studies because they know they won’t yield the desired result. Beyond that, this was never about health. It was always about social control. Just witness the new drive to ban all outdoor smoking! The Antis are on overdrive trying to reach their self-proclaimed tobacco free end-state. The outdoor bans need to be resisted and soundly rejected. Just a few months ago polls in the UK showed that a majority supported amending the pub ban to allow indoor smoking rooms. Now the Antis are trying to ban all outdoor smoking. They are trying to stem the erosion of their puritan policy. No wis the time to accelerate pro-choice initiatives.

  6. Some French bloke says:

    this 1941 study would seem to be entirely without value.

    Or, to get it straight from the horse’s mouth, Richard Doll (aka The man who saved a million lives):

    “Pathologists, meanwhile, continued to argue about the reality of the increase. Some, however, had been sufficiently impressed to try to produce cancer with tobacco tar on the skin of laboratory animals. Roffo succeeded in doing so in the Argentine in 1931, using rabbits, but his results were generally dismissed in the UK and the US on the grounds that the tobacco had been burnt at unrealistically high temperatures. Experiments in Britain were negative (Leitch, 1928; Passey, 1929) apart from one which produced one cancer in 50 animals and led Cooper et al (1932) to conclude that “tobacco tar is relatively unimportant in the causation of cancers”.

    • Some French bloke says:

      Link to the 2005 “The man who saved a million lives” article:

      In what is possibly his final interview, Doll’s not having been awarded the Nobel Prize is called ‘an international scandal’ (that’s according to Professor Jeffrey Tobias), while Doll reflects: ‘He’s not alone on that. But, oh well, that’s something I’d prefer not to discuss.’
      Yet I’d guess he took solace in the fact that this omission doesn’t in anyway preclude sainthood.

      • Joe L. says:

        Thanks for the link. Also noteworthy from the article:

        Richard Doll was born in 1912, at a time when smoking was just becoming popular. His father, who was a GP near the family home in Hampton, Middlesex, promised his son £50 if he refrained from smoking until he was 21, not because he thought it was harmful, but because it was a waste of money. ‘I was determined to get it,’ Doll says, ‘but I had a brother, seven years younger than me, and whenever we had friends in the house he would say, “Oh, Richard’s not going to smoke until he’s 21!” And I finally said, “I can’t stand this any longer – give me a cigarette.”‘
        He consumed two ounces of pipe tobacco a week and five cigarettes a day during his time as a medical student and an officer during the Second World War.

        It sounds like Doll carried with him resentment for “caving in” and becoming a smoker, therefore never receiving the £50 from his father, so he set out to destroy tobacco as some sort of personal revenge.

        • roobeedoo2 says:

          In my experience ex-smokers are the worst anti-smokers because they’re pumped up with righteousness as soon as quit ‘the evil weed’. Hitler was another ex-smoker… Basically, the NHS is pouring money and energy into creating ‘Hitler’ clones, bragging about it and demanding more of them…

          O/T Husband just showed me a video about a solar cooker, discovered by someone mucking about with solar panels. Sounds like a marvelous re-use of existing technology:

        • roobeedoo2 says:

          I have also struck a bet for £50 that we can reverse the smoking ban. The person that I have the bet with once gave me a doll… LoL…

      • Rose says:

        2005 “The man who saved a million lives”

        That was the year before someone found his papers complete with receipts which he’d left to the Wellcome Library.
        I have often wondered if it was by way of a final confession.

        Here’s a good article on it.

        Medical research and big business: The case of Sir Richard Doll
        By Chris Talbot
        9 January 2007

        “”From the 1970s on Doll was called as an expert witness in dozens of official enquiries and court cases seeking to establish links between cancer cases and chemicals or radiation. In many cases he denied there was any significant causative factor involved and saved industry and governments millions in compensation payments.

        After his death his papers, held at the Wellcome Foundation Library, showed that he had received a series of consultancy payments, including money from companies whose products he defended in court. These papers show payments of £50,000 to Green College from Turner and Newall, the asbestos company; a 30-year financial relationship between Turner and Newall and Doll; payments of between £12,000 and £15,000 to Doll from the Chemical Manufacturers’ Association; and from 1976 to 2002 (and possibly later) payments to Doll of $1,000 a day (increasing to $1,500 a day in 1986) from Monsanto [1].

        The following are some of Doll’s interventions compiled by Dr. Samuel Epstein of the US Cancer Prevention Coalition [2]:

        In 1981 Doll gave a speech to workers at Turner and Newell’s largest asbestos plant in Britain in response to a television documentary exposing the risks of cancer. The government had been forced to lower the occupational exposure limits as a result of the programme. Doll claimed that the new exposure limits meant that workers’ lifetime risk of dying from cancer was “a pretty outside chance” of one in 40. This level is actually very high and the incidence rate is now known to be higher still. Doll declined to testify against the asbestos companies as an expert witness on behalf of plaintiffs dying of cancer and their bereaved families. Instead, he gave a sworn statement in support of Turner and Newell to US courts.

        In 1983 Doll claimed there was no correlation between lead in vehicle exhaust gases and increased lead levels in blood and learning disabilities in children. His research was funded by General Motors.

        In 1985 Doll wrote to the judge of an Australian Royal Commission investigating claims made by military veterans that they had developed cancer after exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange in Vietnam. He stated that “TCDD (dioxin), which has been postulated to be a dangerous contaminant of the herbicide, is at the most, only weakly and inconsistently carcinogenic in animal experiments.” Dioxin is in fact the most dangerous carcinogen known.”

        “In 1987 it had been discovered that there was a 21 percent excess of lymphoid leukaemia in children and young adults living within 10 miles of one of 15 UK nuclear plants. Doll dismissed this evidence and suggested that “over clean” homes of the nuclear workers made their children susceptible to a supposed virus.

        In 1988 Doll claimed that the excess mortality from leukaemia and multiple myeloma in servicemen who had been exposed to radiation from atom bomb tests was a “statistical quirk.” The British National Radiation Protection Board was able to insist that there was no evidence that the Pacific Island tests carried out in the 1950s produced cancers and refused to accept the ex-servicemen’s claim despite the US, Australia and New Zealand governments all accepting responsibility for the risks involved.

        In 1988 Doll carried out a review, on behalf of the US Chemical Manufacturer’s Association, that claimed there was no significant evidence relating occupational exposure to vinyl chloride and brain cancer. Swedish cancer expert Dr. Lennart Hardell said of the report, “Because his conclusions formed the basis for health and safety guidelines and legislation many people have died unnecessarily in my opinion.”

        Doll’s influence was not confined to using his reputation to assist industry and governments to avoid health and safety restrictions and compensation claims. He helped to shape the whole direction of cancer research. The work he published jointly in 1981 with co-worker Sir Richard Peto, now co-director of the British Medical Research Council Clinical Trial Service Unit & Epidemiological Studies Unit, was extremely influential. Doll and Peto claimed a central estimate of 4 percent of cancer deaths being due to occupational factors and only 2 percent due to pollution.

        Doll asserted that his opponents were hostile to science. He wrote a letter to a newspaper in 1992 telling the public they should ignore warnings by “the large and powerful anti-science mafia” of the risks from carcinogenic pesticides.”


        And there’s more, a lot more.

        He even managed to get successive governments off the hook for the genetic damage done to the Bomb Test veterans and their families by blaming the servicemen’s smoking habits.

        “Most of the differences observed between the participants and controls were interpreted as due to chance, but some may be due to differences in smoking habits”

        • Rose says:

          Professor Doll failed to declare interests when working on vinyl chloride

          “The eminent epidemiologist Richard Doll acted as a paid industrial consultant to several chemical firms around the time he was working on a paper on the possible dangers of exposure to vinyl chloride, a new article says. Professor Doll, who died last year, did not declare that interest, the article claims.”

          “The Swedish authors write, “The £15 000 [€22 200; $28 400] fee for the review was paid for by the CMA [US Chemical Manufacturers Association], partly by ICI, the biggest producer of vinyl chloride in the UK, and partly by Dow, another big producer of vinyl chloride.”

          “However, in the years 1987 and 1988 when Doll was finishing the review he was also separately receiving consultancy funding from Monsanto, also one of the other biggest producers of vinyl chloride in North America and an important member of the CMA. None of this funding was declared in the published article.”

          “Perversely the 1981 US study which was supposed to cover all environmental and work-related cancers, Doll specifically excluded African Americans and anyone aged over 60 from the statistics when exposure would be expected to be higher among blue collar workers and the poor where African Americans might be deemed to be over-represented because of insurance claims and the locations they live and work in. Similarly the cancer incidence would certainly be expected to be highest in the old.

          In Doll’s 1998 study into vinyl chloride the same policy was followed: Older workers (with heavy exposure) and plants regarded as particularly dangerous seem to have been excluded, while young workers (with little/no exposure) were included, leading to downplayment of the risk.


        • Some French bloke says:

          Doll and Peto claimed a central estimate of 4 percent of cancer deaths being due to occupational factors and only 2 percent due to pollution.

          Unfortunately, many opponents to the ‘quantitative estimates’ propounded by Doll and Peto in their 1981 chart lay down (or used to, back in 1998) their arms as soon as they come in view of the anti-smoking citadel, as clearly shown in the final paragraphs of this essay by Martin Walker

          “He tells us too, against all the evidence, that the continual, unregulated and untested introduction of chemicals into our food, can do the land, the farmers, and ultimately the consumers, nothing but good.
          Fortunately Sir Richard and his colleagues are fighting a losing battle. It is becoming increasingly clear to the people that all this is not only false but the very opposite to the truth – mere propaganda for the chemical and nuclear industries that are, like the tobacco industry also, responsible for the present cancer pandemic.
          How may people today really believe that the leukaemia clusters found around just about all nuclear installations in the UK and elsewhere are caused by viruses introduced by outsiders? Who will believe that the main environmental carcinogens are natural ones like blue cheese, mushrooms and radon gas? How many people really believe that asbestos, lead and petrol, and organophosphate pesticides are harmless? Fewer and fewer, as the serious, independent evidence inexorably accumulates.”

  7. Frank Davis says:

    I tried this a few years back. I got a saucer filled with petrol, and dropped lit cigarettes in it. It never caught fire.

    Petrol lit with a cigarette? Only in the movies
    James Randerson, science correspondent
    Tuesday 27 February 2007 09.25 GMT

    From Hitchcock’s The Birds to The Usual Suspects, it has been one of the staple cliches of Hollywood: the cigarette butt tumbling in slow motion into a pool of petrol unleashing a conflagration.

    But if you find yourself tied up and doused in petrol don’t worry if all your assailant has is a lighted cigarette: scientists have proved you won’t end up as a human fireball.

    “On the face of it it’s a pretty simple problem,” said Richard Tontarski, an expert in forensic fire at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland. Cigarettes burn at around 700C (1,292F) and the ignition temperature of petrol is 246C. “But it just isn’t that simple,” he said.

    He began looking into the problem because arson suspects frequently claim a petrol fire was started by accident. “The person claims, ‘I accidentally threw gasoline on my girlfriend, she was smoking and she burst into flames’,” he said.

    To find out whether this was possible, he and colleagues experimented. They dropped burning cigarettes into trays of petrol. They sprayed a fine mist of petrol at a lighted cigarette. They even used a vacuum device to produce the higher temperature (900-950C) of a cigarette being sucked. In more than 2,000 attempts the petrol did not ignite.

    Dr Tontarski can only speculate why. The layer of ash on the tobacco, perhaps, or the petrol vapour convected away from the hottest part of the cigarette.

    So is he in touch with Hollywood to demand it drops the explosive movie cliche? “Actually they are pretty well aware of it. They don’t care.”

  8. harleyrider1978 says:

    Minister dismisses calls for Scots smoking ban to be extended to outside licensed premises

    CALLS for a ban on smoking in public to be extended to outdoor areas of pubs and restaurants in Scotland have been rejected by the public health…


  9. harleyrider1978 says:

    Asbestos, Smoking and the art of Illusion (1)

    (Which of these is really responsible for most ‘smoke related’ diseases?)

    The Magicians Oath

    As a magician I promise never to reveal the secret of any illusion to a non-magician, unless that one swears to uphold the Magician’s Oath in turn. I promise never to perform any illusion for any non-magician without first practicing the effect until I can perform it well enough to maintain the illusion of magic.”

    The greatest ever mass deception?

    Speaking at a central London conference on 6th November 2008, organised by Health Secretary Alan Johnson, Gordon Brown said some people would argue that the current period of global financial turbulence should mean ambitious plans are postponed. “I believe there can be no worse time than this to turn back,” he said. “Health is now indisputably a global issue and more needs to be done on expanding the international knowledge base on the social factors determining how healthy people’s lives are”. (09) It was no coincidence that this statement was made at that time. Over the previous few days, weeks and months it had become increasingly clear that the smoking ban had and was causing phenomenal damage to society, business and jobs. Strong rumours came to light that many back bench Labour MPs were becoming increasingly unhappy at this state of affairs and there was growing support for a relaxation of the restrictions on smokers to try to stem pub and club closures and other economic damage. Brown’s statement of intent would appear to be a strong, albeit veiled, put-down of those MPs, whilst making it clear that the smoking ban and all other state interventions into lifestyle choices and ‘health inequalities’ would continue unchanged, regardless as to what damage would be caused to all other aspects of society. As little has been said on the subject by MPs since, it would appear that they have in fact ’toed the line’.

  10. Pingback: Apols! A quick and dirty shambles… | Library of Libraries

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