One Reason Why It’s Healthy To Smoke And Drink

In conversation in the Smoky Drinky Bar last night (and with Legiron a week or so back), the subject of the bactericidal, fungicidal, and insecticidal properties of tobacco smoke (in fact more or less any wood smoke) came up. Unfortunately, smoke doesn’t kill off viruses as well – although viruses are actually just pieces of DNA, and not living things.

It set me wondering what it was in (tobacco) smoke which killed off bacteria and fungi and insects. Nicotine is a poison, after all. And there are probably any number of poisons in a great many plants.

But then it occurred to me that it was perhaps not so much what was in smoke that gave it these lethal properties, but rather what was not in smoke that did so. And what was not in smoke – or not present in such great quantities as usual – was oxygen.

After all, the combustion of plant material entails combining oxygen with combustible substance, and the oxygen required for combustion is drawn from air, in which it is present in a concentration of 20% by volume. So smoke that is the product of combustion must be low in oxygen. Maybe it’s simply this oxygen deficiency which kills off bacteria and fungi and insects? Perhaps a reduction of oxygen concentrations from 20% to 5% or less might be enough to do that.

Large animals (like humans) are able to store air for short periods in their lungs. And oxygen is carried in their bloodstream in protective packets of haemoglobin in red blood cells. But insects (and presumably bacteria and fungi) don’t have lungs. They simply have pores in their bodies into which air diffuses, carrying oxygen. Their (blue) blood (haemolymph) uses haemocyanin rather than haemoglobin to transport oxygen.  But because they are such small animals, it’s unlikely that they can store much oxygen. And so it may only need a brief interruption in the supply of oxygen for them to exhaust their oxygen stores and die. Larger animals, carrying larger stores of oxygen in lungs and extensive blood systems, would take longer to die in the same oxygen-depleted environment.

Of course, fresh oxygen will normally rapidly diffuse into an oxygen-depleted air space, but only if there is good ventilation. If a room (or building) is sealed, before a fire is lit to fill it with smoke, it may take a long time for fresh, oxygenated air to diffuse into the building. And this will mean that any bacteria or insects – even those is cracks and crevasses – will eventually experience a lethal oxygen deficiency.

If it’s oxygen deficiency that’s killing them, the important thing would be to arrange for the most complete combustion of as much of the oxygen in the air entering the fumigated space. It would need an experiment of some sort to determine whether oxygen depletion was the cause of death, rather than something else (such as the chemical components of smoke).

This explanation would also explain why viruses aren’t killed by fumigation. Viruses don’t breathe or absorb oxygen. So viruses are going to survive fumigation.

But it’s unlikely that viruses would survive combustion. A virus passing through a flame or ember would probably be oxidised along with everything else being burned.

And this prompted the thought that smokers probably experience some degree of protection from viruses because some of the air that they breathe has been passed through the high temperatures (800º C) in the glowing tips of their cigarettes (or pipes or cigars), and any viruses in that air will have been destroyed. If, for example, smokers get 5% of the air they breathe drawn through the tips of their cigarettes, then they will have 5% better protection from viral infections than non-smokers.

The protective effect would be enhanced with chain-smokers. And would be greatest of all in people who have cigarettes almost permanently dangling from their mouths.

And if it could be arranged that the air people breathed had all been passed through the flame of combustion, it would be entirely free of viruses, and they would be immune to airborne viral epidemics – which would only affect non-smokers.

In fact, it would not need any smoke or flame to destroy viruses. The same effect could be achieved simply by heating air to a high enough temperature.

In fact it appears that much lower temperatures may suffice. Simply storing one particular waterborne virus in water at 15º C for 50 days resulted in lower survival rates (by a factor of 10) than in water at 4º C. Others suggest that if air is raised to 75º C for some period of time, this alone may be enough to kill off most of the viral load carried in it. Interestingly, it seems that viruses have half-lives:

the half-life of free infectious [influenza A] virus is ∼3 h.

This suggests that anyone who lives far enough away from the centre of any viral epidemic will be less likely to be infected because viruses lose infectivity with time. But we knew that already.

Aside from this, it should be noted that alcohol is also bactericidal (and was one reason why humans have often drunk beer or wine), and may also be virucidal.

Viruses cannot be killed, since they are not alive. However, they can be inactivated. Alcohol, bleach, acids and heat can inactivate a virus. It all depends on the virus in question.

All of which suggests that if you want to avoid bacterial or viral infections, smoking and drinking (preferably in tandem, and in large quantities) will result in a much healthier and infection-free life than a smoke-free, alcohol-free, supposedly “healthy” lifestyle.

The third and final part of my conversation with Legiron below touches on some of the subjects just discussed:

About Frank Davis

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13 Responses to One Reason Why It’s Healthy To Smoke And Drink

  1. Fredrik Eich says:

    The anti-smoking industry claims that because smokers have blood that is not quite as oxygen rich
    as non-smokers and that somehow this must mean that it is a bad thing. Why is this a bad thing? If a drug means that you can operate with out so much oxygen and given that it is oxygen that does so much damage and eventually kills us – then why is it not a good idea to take that drug? In animal experiments smoke exposed animals live longer than non-smoke exposed animals and the smoke exposed animals eat less food than the non-smoke exposed animals. Could this simply be that the smoke exposed animals can operate without as much oxygen as the animals that are not smoke expose and therefore live longer?
    To find the answer to this question we would have to keep human primates in similar conditions as we do in murine models. But this would be unethical and expensive. So we are never going to know for sure.

    • Joe L. says:

      The anti-smoking industry claims that because smokers have blood that is not quite as oxygen rich
      as non-smokers and that somehow this must mean that it is a bad thing

      But the antismokers don’t really ever speak of oxygen levels.They focus on nicotine. They claim that nicotine is the devil. They claim that nicotine is the reason for tobacco “addiction.” They claim nicotine causes heart disease, strokes and other cardiovascular issues. Nicotine is also the common thread that antismokers used to so quickly wrap vaping up with smoking as “bad for you.” However, all the while, the Antismoking industry creates and sells “nicotine replacement therapy” (NRT) products, which are supposedly “good for you.”

  2. Roobeedoo2 says:

    Thank you Frank and Leg Iron. I really enjoyed listening to your conversation :D

  3. Vlad says:

    This reminds me of how Humphrey Bogart and John Huston, by relying on alcohol instead of water, supposedly remained disease free while shooting The African Queen on location in 1951.

    As to your last paragraph, I’ll have to disagree with the alcohol part. If one drinks in large quantities, not only one runs a high risk of destroying one’s liver, but he also won’t be able to do much else in an intoxicated state.

    • garyk30 says:

      How much is large quantities is up to the individual and quite variable.

      I am going with ‘practice makes perfect’.

      • nisakiman says:

        Heh! Yes, I’ve been practicing for many years now!

        I must admit, though, that these days I rarely drink alcohol during the day. I don’t seem to be able to cope with it like I used to when I was younger. A few beers at lunchtime used to be the order of the day, but alas no more.

  4. Rose says:

    Medicinal Smoke Reduces Airborne Bacteria

    “This study represents a comprehensive analysis and scientific validation of our ancient knowledge about the effect of ethnopharmacological aspects of natural products’ smoke for therapy and health care on airborne bacterial composition and dynamics, using the Biolog® microplate panelsand Microlog® database.

    In this study, we have designed an air sampler for microbiological air sampling during the treatment of the room with medicinal smoke. In addition, elimination of the aerial pathogenic bacteria due to the smoke is reported too.

    We have observed that 1 h treatment of medicinal smoke emination by burning wood and a mixture of odoriferous and medicinal herbs (havan sámagri = material used in oblation to fire all over India) on aerial bacterial population caused over 94% reduction of bacterial counts by 60 min and the ability of the smoke to purify or disinfect the air and to make the environment cleaner was maintained up to 24 h in the closed room.

    Absence of pathogenic bacteria Corynebacterium urealyticum, Curtobacterium flaccumfaciens, Enterobacter aerogenes (Klebsiella mobilis), Kocuria rosea, Pseudomonassyringae pv. persicae, Staphylococcus lentus, and Xanthomonas campestris pv. tardicrescens inthe open room even after 30 days is indicative of the bactericidal potential of the medicinal smoke treatment.

    We have demonstrated that using medicinal smoke it is possible to completely eliminate diverse plant and human pathogenic bacteria of the air within confined space.
    Work has implications to use the smoke generated by burning wood and a mixture of odoriferousand medicinal herbs, within confined spaces such as animal barns and seed/grain warehouses to disinfect the air and to make the environment cleaner.
    Work indicates that certain known medicinal constituents from the havan sámagri can thus be added to the burning farm material while disposing unwanted agriculture organic material, in order to reduce plant pathogenicorganisms.

    In particular, it highlights the fact that we must think well beyond the physical aspects of smoke on plants in natural habitats and impacts heavily on our understanding of fire as adriving force in evolution.
    We have demonstrated that using medicinal smoke it is possible to contain diverse pathogenic bacteria of the air we breathe.

    The work also highlights the fact about medicinal smoke and that a lot of natural products have potential for use as medicine in the smoke form as a form of drug delivery and as a promising source of new active natural ingredients for containing indoor airborne infections within confined spaces used for storage of agriculture comodities.

    The dynamic chemical and biological interactions occurring in the atmosphere are much more complex than has been previously realized. The findings warrant a need for further evaluation of various ingredients present in the complex mixture of odoriferous and medicinal herbs, individually and in various combinations to identify the active principlesinvolved in the bactericidal property of the medicinal smoke, applied in the above discussed fashion.”

  5. waltc says:

    I have no idea what this means but I’ve been told that by rule of thumb, doctors can tell (or guess) whether your infection is bacterial or viral by how high or relatevely low (or nonexistent) your fever is. Since after a few million years, the body understands these things when deploying its defenses, it could be that it tries harder to burn the bacteria up, turning up the heat as far as it thinks necessary. Otoh, maybe it knows either that killing viruses requires less heat, or that viruses are relatupively immune to heat so why bother?

  6. wobbler2012 says:

    Very good points Frank and many thanks for uploading the chat with Legiron! Superb.

    I would love for you to do another with him, and one with MJM would also be very interesting too I would think.

    Keep up the great work.

  7. Darryl says:

    Smoking ceremony is when various native plants are collected and used to produce smoke. This has been believed to have cleansing properties and the ability to ward off unwanted and bad spirits, which was believed to bring bad omens.

    • beobrigitte says:

      This has been believed to have cleansing properties and the ability to ward off unwanted and bad spirits, which was believed to bring bad omens.
      *Sigh*. It didn’t work, ASH et al is still nesting in Westminster….

  8. junican says:

    Enjoyed your conversation very much. We have huge problems discussing ‘anti-smoking’ because TC has been like a tidal wave, swamping us all with torrents of junk science and propaganda. Where do you start? Which is why I often speak of the servility of politicians.
    I still cannot understand why Blair and his cabinet at the time permitted the comprehensive smoking ban. Why did they swallow the nonsense of SHS danger when they must already have known that, a) according to Doll’s Doctors Study, it takes decades of smoking to have a serious effect on a person’s health, and, b) SHS is hundreds of times weaker than directly inhaled smoke? It would not matter if you could prove beyond doubt that smoking was not the main cause of LC in those people in Doll’s Doctors Study. The TC juggernaut would sail on.
    I blog to keep my spirits up, and, hopefully, those of my readers.

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