How Much Carbon Monoxide Is in Cigarette Smoke?

Cigarette smoke contains hundreds of chemicals known to be toxic, including carbon monoxide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The noxious gas emanates from the burning of carbon-based substances and can lead to a number of health ailments over time.

History and Method of Measuring CO

Several decades ago, doctors analyzed blood samples to determine carbon monoxide (CO) levels in patients. Modern medicine incorporates a breath analysis test that uses CO monitors. Most smoking cessation clinics use the breath tests to determine the amount of smoke inhaled by smokers and for monitoring progress in treatment.

Toxic Content

The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey reports that active smokers at the hospital’s Tobacco Dependence Clinic typically have CO levels of about 20 parts per million (ppm), but the levels can be as low as 10 ppm and as high as 50 ppm. Carbon monoxide levels this high require the heart to work overtime in order to get enough oxygen into the bloodstream. The CO levels of non-smokers and even ex-smokers shortly after quitting, typically measure between zero and two ppm.

Health Effects

With the inhalation of smoke comes the absorption of noxious carbon monoxide into the bloodstream. Carbon monoxide binds to the hemoglobin in red blood cells 200 times more effectively than oxygen, thus replacing massive amounts of oxygen in the blood with this toxic gas. This causes the heart to work harder and can lead to a host of diseases. Nicotine, a stimulant in cigarette smoke, also increases the heart’s need for oxygen at the same time CO is depriving oxygen. Prolonged CO exposure from cigarette smoke increases the risk of heart attacks, vascular disease and coronary heart disease.

The Cleansing Process

The body and lungs begin a cleansing process almost immediately after smokers kick the habit, according to the American Cancer Society. Twenty minutes after quitting, an ex-smoker’s heart rate and blood pressure drop back to normal levels. Within 12 hours, unsafe levels of carbon monoxide leave the body. Two weeks to three months later, blood and oxygen circulation improve as lung function and capacity increase.

Quitting Strategies

The American Cancer Society recommends several steps and methods to quit smoking. Marking quitting dates on calendars and getting friends and family on board for support can help. Chewing sugarless gum, carrot sticks and hard candy can fulfill the oral tendencies of smokers. And nicotine gum or graduated nicotine patches help many smokers, particularly longtime addicts, quit.

Cigarette smoke contains hundreds of chemicals known to be toxic