[This is a guest post from An Apple a Day, who contacted me a while back offering to write something. At the time they had a post on their site about allergies so I asked them if they would give us an answer to the question of whether people can really be—as some claim—allergic to tobacco.]
Edward Stern is a guest blogger for An Apple a Day and a writer on earning your online nursing degree for the Guide to Health Education.
We’re all well-versed in the fact that smoking is bad for you [I wouldn't be too sure about that - CJS]. But can you really be allergic to tobacco? By definition, an allergic reaction is the result of your body fighting off something it believes to be harmful such as a disease. Allergies manifest themselves in hives, itching, irritation, redness, more mucus produced, etc. Therefore, if there are people allergic to tobacco, it would mean their bodies find tobacco harmful and are reacting to it.
Whether this actually happens, and why, is still up to much debate. A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study claims that individuals may be allergic to tobacco smoke. These allergies demonstrate themselves through nasal symptoms like runny nose and congestion. Tobacco smoke allergies may also cause headaches and nausea. Children with such allergies are susceptible to ear infection and lung deficiencies, such as a greater risk for asthma. Most of these symptoms are easily treated with over-the-counter medicines.
This begs the question: what ingredient is actually responsible for the “allergic reaction”? Is tobacco itself the culprit? Cigarettes are filled with all kinds of chemicals and carcinogens that are far more likely to act as irritants to our system and create allergy-like symptoms. How do these “allergies” manifest across different brands of cigarettes? The EPA study asserts that people can be allergic to smoke, yet failed to indicate what types of cigarettes were smoked in the studies conducted and what ingredients were present in the cigarettes. Other studies shedding light on these questions are scarce. Before any hard claims are made that tobacco causes allergies, more research needs to be conducted.
Regardless, claims of “tobacco allergy” seem to be sufficient for anti-smoking advocates who want to ban smoking from public places, or in places like Los Angeles, where the city wants to ban smoking outside of homes. People are allergic, that's enough, and no one really dares to question the veracity of such statements or what they really mean.
I'm not trying to say that cigarettes aren’t harmful. They are. But in making a case for legislation that bans personal habits from public places, I would argue that lawmakers need to know their facts and steer clear of studies that are speculative at best. Until someone knows why these supposed “allergic” reactions occur (and can definitively pinpoint tobacco as the active trigger), the topic should be avoided in anti-smoking legislation discussions.