The silent smoker at home!

The aroma that envelops the room when incense sticks or agarbattis are lit is loved by many. Some light it as a sign of worship while others incorporate them into their daily habits because of its positive energy and fragrance. These incense sticks are generally made using aromatic plant materials, often combined with essential oils that are stuck on the bamboo stick using an adhesive. While an incense is burnt, its smoke is released into the nearby environment and inhaled by us from the surrounding air. The amount of smoke inhaled depends on how much of the incense is burned, for how long, the size of the room and how well ventilated it is.

But, are the ones that we buy today from local stores really healthy?

Incense burning is one of the sources of indoor air pollutants. Burning it emits smoke which consists of particulate matter, gas products and organic compounds including Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) . The gas released while burning includes CO, CO2, NO2, SO2 and many more. The VOCs comprises of benzene, toluene, xylene, aldehydes, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

A number of studies carried have shown the impacts of incense on the respiratory system and have gone on to consider them to be carcinogenic. Yang et al. from China surveyed 4,164 elementary school children in rural areas of Kaohsiung to determine whether indoor environmental factors affect the respiratory system; and it was found that incense burning and mosquito repellents were significantly associated with cough.

The scientists in South China University of Technology conducted a study on two of the most common types of incense-sticks; agarwood and sandalwood. They found that incense-smoke was mutagenic (causes DNA changes at the cell level), genotoxic (causes genetic changes leading to cancer) and cytotoxic (so toxic that it kills your cells).

Another study found in the Journal of the American Cancer Society mentioned that a long term exposure to incense fumes increases the risk of risk of upper respiratory tract cancer.

So now, what to do?

1. People with lung conditions should avoid using incense while the others should reduce its use.

2. Lite it only when its extremely essential in places which is well ventilated.

3. When kids are around, avoid using it.

Prakriti Bagdi

Programme Assistant