Cigarettes or incense: healthwise there is hardly any difference

February 2020 Healthy Living Willem van Altena
burning Embossed sticks and smoke from incense burning and smoke

Burning incense inside the home is just as unhealthy as lighting a cigarette indoors. This is the message from the Belgian consumer organization Test Aankoop. They advocate a ban on several types of incense, as well as other regulations that are not dissimilar to those that apply to the cigarette industry.

Incense has been used throughout history as a means to enhance religious rituals or to perfume a home. Usually in the shape of sticks or cones, incense is usually a mixture of organic materials such as spices, herbs and resin, that releases fragrant aromas once it’s burnt. In our current day and age, incense is very popular and associated with relaxation and wellness. But just how ‘zen’ is it to inhale toxic fumes, Test Aankoop wonders.

Nobody is unaware of the health hazards brought along by smoking tobacco, a habit that has proven ties to heart disease and lung cancer. And also the concept of ‘second hand smoke’ is well known. For this reason, in Belgium smoking has become prohibited in more and more public places, such as restaurants, public transport, and the work floor. So what makes the smoke from cigarettes any different from the smoke from incense?

Fine dust

Not a lot, Test Aankoop argues. Even though incense does not contain nicotine and tar, it does often contain carcinogenous ingredients such as benzene, formaldehyde, acroleine and naphthalene. Hardly the sort of thing that anyone would or should voluntarily inhale. Furthermore, burning organic material releases fine dust that will find its way into the respiratory system and even enters the body through the skin. And burning incense -cheap or expensive makes no difference- releases carbon monoxide, which can cause nausea, headache and concentration problems, especially in a confined space.

European regulations regarding incense do exist, but are hardly observed or enforced. For that reason, Test Aankoop demands a ban on the sale of eight types of incense, as well as a ban on the sale of incense to minors under 18. They also urge the Belgian government to take steps to provide incense packaging with warning labels, just as happens with tobacco products.


Read the original article from Test Aankoop HERE (in Dutch)