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Startling new research from the nonprofit research group the American Chemical Society, and the National Cancer Institute, shows that cigarette smoke causes genetic damage within minutes after inhaling. If you’re one of the nearly 46 million Americans who smoke, even occasionally, take heed.

To establish this finding, scientists tracked one of the harmful hydrocarbons in tobacco smoke in the bloodstreams of 12 volunteers after they finished smoking. In just 15 to 30 minutes the hydrocarbon turned into a DNA-trashing toxin, one that is known to trigger mutations that can cause cancer. The effect was so fast, said researchers, that it would be the same as injecting the toxin intravenously.

“This was the first study to specifically measure this type of DNA-damaging material in smokers,” says lead researcher, Stephen Hecht, PhD, a cancer prevention researcher at the University of Minnesota. “We were quite surprised that it happened so quickly. This shows the potential for rapid genetic damage upon smoking even one cigarette.”

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