California vineyards may hold the key to safer cigarettes

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What do the wine and tomato industries have in common? Besides the fact that they both play a major role in California agriculture, both could potentially be courted by cigarette manufacturers looking to market a safer, more “green” product. Here’s why:

Cornell University scientists have found a way to dramatically reduce the amount of cancer-causing free radicals that pass through cigarette filters by (literally) stuffing conventional filters with grape seed extract and lycopene, a compound that occurs naturally in tomatoes.

Researchers used an electron spin resonance spectroscopy (ESR) to quantify radicals that were trapped in smoke samples obtained by a machine that “smoked” their modified cigarettes. It was determined that the grape seed/active-carbon-treated-lycopene combo scavenged up to 90 percent of free radicals that would have otherwise made it through the filter. Their research noted that both grape seed extract and lycopene can be obtained in large quantities – byproducts of wine producers and tomato processors.

Research associate and study co-auther Boris Dzikovski said of the results:

“The implications of this technique can help reduce the hazardous effects of tobacco smoke.”

This isn’t the first time that scientists have achieved significant reductions of free radicals in smoke, but it is the first time they did so in a cost effective manner.  The lab of Physical Chemistry Professor Jack H. Freed published its research in the Jan. 2 issue of the Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE). The work was supported by the National Institutes of Health. The full video article can be viewed online.