Expert Q&A

Is incense smoke safe to breathe?

BY: Michael Castleman

No. In a new study, researchers found that people who burned incense frequently were almost twice as likely to develop cancers of the upper respiratory tract (nasal sinuses, mouth, tongue and larynx) compared to those who rarely or never burned incense. What's more, the risk increased for both smokers and nonsmokers, which means the harmful effects of burning incense are independent of smoking cigarettes.

"Burning incense produces a considerable amount of smoke," says study leader, Jeppe Friborg, M.D., of the Danish Epidemiology Science Center in Copenhagen. "That smoke contains a multitude of harmful constituents, including benzene and polyaromatic hydrocarbons." (It's not clear why the study found no association between incense smoke and lung cancer. Other studies have. One possibility is that participants were followed for an average of 10 years, which may not have been long enough to show a significant increase in lung cancers.)

As a result of this study, the American Lung Association has added incense burning to its list of risk factors for respiratory cancers. So if you enjoy incense, you might want to consider scented candles, essential oils or potpourri instead.

Tags: cancer , wellness



Michael Castleman has been called "one of the nation's leading health writers" (Library Journal). He is the author of 11 consumer health books and more than 1,500 health articles for magazines and the Web. Michael is a frequent contributor to Live Right Live Well.



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