Is it harmful to breathe mist?

Fog of Horror: Beware of incense sticks


A current study confirms the suspicion that has long been held that incense, mostly from the Far East, can sometimes be very dangerous. Internists are now calling for appropriate warnings on the packaging of the fragrance stems.

Incense sticks are used in all Asian countries in Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism and Taoism in temples, in ceremonies and meditations. The smoke is said to have a cleansing effect. But even in this country, the smell of Glimmstengeli wafts through many living rooms and bedrooms. Now the professional association of German internists is warning against such incense.

Study proves cancer risk

These products damage the airways and could cause cancer, criticizes the Munich doctor Reiner Hartenstein. Especially in the upper respiratory tract, the smoke could lead to the degeneration of epithelial cells. Hartenstein refers to a new, large-scale study, according to which the smoke inhaled from incense cones, pans and vessels damages the cells that form the walls of the airways. People who stayed in rooms with incense sticks regularly and for long periods of time were therefore more likely to develop so-called squamous cell carcinomas. These are malignant tumors emanating from the skin and mucous membranes. The risk of lung cancer, however, remains unchanged.

"The study confirms the suspicion that the smoking agents, which often come from the Far East, have carcinogenic effects," says Hartenstein. Similar to passive smoking, breathing in ambient air containing smoke is apparently enough. The smoke contains various carcinogenic substances that could be mutagenic. However, it is not yet known which smoked products are particularly unhealthy.

Smoking utensils from Asia are also widespread in Switzerland. "Anyone who lights an incense stick from time to time certainly doesn't have to worry," emphasizes the expert. However, anyone who, for example, keeps a stick burning at home or is permanently exposed to the smoke of Asian fragrance utensils during working hours must expect a significantly increased risk of cancer. "Like tobacco companies, manufacturers should be obliged to issue such warnings," demands Hartenstein.