It’s not new information that, over time, secondhand smoke is just as dangerous as actually smoking. However, a new study shows that it’s not just the people around you who are negatively affected by secondhand smoke–plants also suffer due to the toxic exposure.
The study was done in Germany at the Technical University of Braunschweig. The findings indicated something highly alarming, although not altogether surprising for people against cigarettes–plants can absorb nicotine from secondhand smoke.
Nicotine itself is natural. While it’s mostly associated with tobacco, other vegetables do naturally contain low volumes of the chemical (such as eggplants and tomatoes). Despite its being found in nature, nicotine can be dangerous to humans in high doses. According to MetroHealth.org, nicotine “causes a short-term increase in blood pressure, heart rate, and the flow of blood from the heart. It also causes the arteries to narrow.” It’s not rocket science to see that all of these side effects can led up to massive heart problems.
The lead author of the study, Dirk Selmar, watched the plants’ progress as they were exposed to the secondhand smoke over time. At first, he wrote that there seemed to be no real effect on the growth or overall health of the plants. As time wore on and nicotine levels were tested, it became apparent that the plants had, “tremendously elevated nicotine levels”.
This problem had been seen before, when farmers used to use pesticides containing nicotine. Since the chemical occurs naturally in some vegetables, people believed that nicotine-based pesticides were the future of organic farming. Studies came out disproving that theory and showed the real dangers that high levels of nicotine can have on the human body, leading to the pesticides being banned in the United States and Europe.
Despite the ban on these pesticides, Selmar acknowledges that using cigarette tobacco as mulch is still a common pest-control technique and can also spread nicotine through the plants. This is dangerous, because as the plants absorb the nicotine either through secondhand smoke or from tobacco, they hold onto the toxins. When they die and decay, those toxins are absorbed into new plants as nutrients. This is a problem for crop rotation because it could potentially mean that many patches of soil are contaminated.
Selmar notes that although he used peppermint plants as the test subjects in his study (a plant that naturally contains a low amount of nicotine), he believes that all plants can absorb nicotine. He also states that although the peppermint plants’ nicotine levels did spike a fair amount, that amount of nicotine they contained was still not in the zone that he believes is dangerous to human beings.
While this study does not prove that humans are in any danger now, it does show that practices concerning nicotine need to be changed in the near future.